FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY Early Medieval
Supplement
 
Addenda to Northumbria
Attributed to Taliesin.
There was a great battle Saturday morning
From when the sun rose until it grew dark.
The fourfold hosts of Fflamddwyn invaded,
Goddau and Rheged gathered in arms,
Summoned from Argoed as far as Arfynydd –
They might not delay by as much as a day.
With a great blustering din, Fflamddwyn shouted,
“Have these hostages come? Are they ready?”
To him then Owain, scourge of the eastlands,
“They've not come, no! they're not, nor shall they be ready.”
And a whelp of Coel would indeed be afflicted
Did he have to give any man as a hostage!
And Urien, lord of Erechwydd, shouted,
“If they would meet us now for a treaty,
High on the hilltop let's raise our ramparts,
Carry our faces over the shield rims,
Raise up our spears, men, over our heads
And set upon Fflamddwyn in the midst of his hosts
And slaughter him, ay, and all that go with him!”
There was many a corpse beside Argoed Llwyfain;
From warriors ravens grew red
And with their leader a host attacked.
For a whole year I shall sing to their triumph.
Translation by Anthony Conran
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Attributed to Taliesin.
God, consider the soul's need
Of Owain son of Urien!
Rheged's prince, secret in loam:
No shallow work to praise him.
A straight grave, a man much praised,
His whetted spear the wings of dawn:
That lord of bright Llwyfenydd,
Where is his peer?
Reaper of enemies; strong of grip;
One kind with his fathers;
Owain, to slay Fflamddwyn,
Thought it no more than sleep.
Sleepeth the wide host of England
With light in their eyes,
And those that had not fled
Were braver than wise.
Owain dealt them doom
As the wolves devour sheep;
That warrior, bright of harness,
Gave stallions for the bard.
Though he hoarded wealth like a miser
For his soul's sake he gave it.
God, consider the soul's need
Of Owain son of Urien!
Translation by Anthony Conran
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Attributed to Aneirin.
The following extracts are from the translation by A.O.H. Jarman.
6
Wearing a brooch, in the forefront, armed in the fight,
Before his death a mighty warrior in combat,
A princely leader charging before armies,
Five fifties fell before his blades.
Of the men of Deira and Bernicia there fell
A hundred score into oblivion in one hour.
Quicker to a wolf-feast than to a nuptial,
Quicker to the raven's gain than to the altar,
Before his burial his blood flowed down.
In return for mead in the hall with the hosts
Hyfaidd Hir [Hyfaidd the Tall] will be praised while there is a minstrel.
9
Warriors went to Catraeth, their host was swift,
Fresh mead was their feast and it was bitter,
Three hundred fighting under command,
And after the cry of jubilation there was silence.
Though they went to churches to do penance,
The certain meeting with death came to them.
10
Warriors went to Catraeth, a mead nourished host,
Sturdy and vigorous, it would be wrong if I did not praise them.
Along with blood-red blades in great dark-blue sockets,
In close ranks, grimly, the war-hounds fought.
Of the host of Bernicia – I should have considered it a burden –
No one in the shape of a man would I have spared.
A friend I have lost – I was faithful –
Swift in combat, it was hard for me to leave him.
The hero desired no father-in-law's dowry,
The young son of Cian from Maen Gwyngwn.
11
Warriors went to Catraeth with the dawn,
Their fears departed from their dwelling-place,
A hundred thousand and three hundred charged against each other.*
He stains spears with blood,
The most valiant resister in battle,
Before the retinue of Mynyddog Mwynfawr [Mynyddog the Wealthy].
14
A warrior went to Catraeth with the day,
Greedily he drank mead at night-time;
Woeful, an army's lament,
Was his attack, the fiery slayer.
There rushed to Catraeth
No great one so generous
Of intent over his mead;
There was none who so completely
From the fortress of Eidyn
Scattered the enemy.
Tudfwlch Hir from his land and homesteads
Drove out the Saxons without ceasing.
His valour will long endure
And his memory among his fair company.
When Tudfwlch, strengthener of his people, son of Cilydd, attacked,
The place of spears was a field of blood.
33
Warriors charged, leaping forward together,
Short-lived, drunk over the clarified mead,
The retinue of Mynyddog, renowned in battle,
They paid for their mead-feast with their lives:
Caradog and Madog, Pyll and Ieuan,
Gwgon and Gwion, Gwyn and Cynfan,
Peredur of the steel weapons, Gwawrddur and Aeddan,
Attackers in the fight with broken shields.
And though they were slain, they slew;
Not one returned to his homeland.
35
Warriors went to Catraeth, embattled, with a cry,
A host of horsemen in dark-blue armour, with shields.
Spear-shafts held aloft with sharp points,
And shining mail-shirts and swords.
He took the lead, he cut through armies,
Five fifties fell before his blades:
Rhufon Hir gave gold to the altar,
And gifts and handsome largesse to the minstrel.
55
The warriors arose, they assembled,
Together with one accord they attacked.
Short were their lives, long their kinsmen's grief for them,
They slew seven times their number of the English.
By fighting they made women widows,
Many a mother with her tear on her eyelid.
57
After wine-feast and mead-feast they attacked,
Men in battle, renowned, heedless of their lives.
In bright array around the bowl they fed together,
They enjoyed wine and mead and malt.
On account of the retinue of Mynyddog I am sorrowful,
Too many have I lost of my true kinsmen.
Of three hundred champions who attacked Catraeth,
Alas, save one man, none returned.
99
He charged before three hundred of the finest,
He cut down both centre and wing,
He excelled in the forefront of the noblest host,
He gave gifts of horses from the herd in winter.
He fed black ravens on the rampart of a fortress
Though he was no Arthur.
Among the powerful ones in battle,
In the front rank, Gwawrddur was a palisade.
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Addenda to Northumbria (section three)
according to Saxo Grammaticus.
“... he [Ragnar] lifted up his arms against Britain, and attacked and slew in battle its king, Hame, the father of Ælla, who was a most noble youth. Then he killed the earls of Scotland and of Pictland, and of the isles that they call the Southern or Meridional, and made his sons Siward and Radbard masters of the provinces ...
... he summoned Biorn and Erik, ravaged the Orkneys, landed at last on the territory of the Scots, and in a three-days' battle wearied out their king Murial, and slew him. But Ragnar's sons, Dunwat and Radbard, after fighting nobly, were slain by the enemy. So that the victory their father won was stained with their blood. He returned to Denmark, and found that his wife Swanloga had in the meantime died of disease. Straightway he sought medicine for his grief in loneliness, and patiently confined the grief of his sick soul within the walls of his house. But this bitter sorrow was driven out of him by the sudden arrival of Ivar, who had been expelled from the kingdom. For the Gauls [!!] had made him fly, and had wrongfully bestowed royal power on a certain Ælla, the son of Hame. Ragnar took Ivar to guide him, since he was acquainted with the country, gave orders for a fleet, and approached the harbour called York. Here he disembarked his forces, and after a battle which lasted three days, he made Ælla, who had trusted in the valour of the Gauls, desirous to fly. The affair cost much blood to the English and very little to the Danes. Here Ragnar completed a year of conquest, and then, summoning his sons to help him, he went to Ireland, slew its king Melbrik, besieged Dublin, which was filled with wealth of the barbarians, attacked it, and received its surrender...
... Ælla betook himself to the Irish, and put to the sword or punished all those who were closely and loyally attached to Ragnar. Then Ragnar attacked him with his fleet, but, by the just visitation of the Omnipotent, was openly punished for disparaging religion. For when he had been taken and cast into prison, his guilty limbs were given to serpents to devour, and adders found ghastly substance in the fibres of his entrails. His liver was eaten away, and a snake, like a deadly executioner, beset his very heart. Then in a courageous voice he recounted all his deeds in order, and at the end of his recital added the following sentence: “If the porkers knew the punishment of the boar-pig, surely they would break into the sty and hasten to loose him from his affliction.” At this saying, Ælla conjectured that some of his sons were yet alive, and bade that the executioners should stop and the vipers be removed. The servants ran up to accomplish his bidding; but Ragnar was dead, and forestalled the order of the king...
Ivar heard of this disaster as he happened to be looking on at the games. Nevertheless, he kept an unmoved countenance, and in nowise broke down. Not only did he dissemble his grief and conceal the news of his father's death, but he did not even allow a clamour to arise, and forbade the panic-stricken people to leave the scene of the sports. Thus, loth to interrupt the spectacle by the ceasing of the games, he neither clouded his countenance nor turned his eyes from public merriment to dwell upon his private sorrow; for he would not fall suddenly into the deepest melancholy from the height of festal joy, or seem to behave more like an afflicted son than a blithe captain.
But when Siward heard the same tidings, he loved his father more than he cared for his own pain, and in his distraction plunged deeply into his foot the spear he chanced to be holding, dead to all bodily troubles in his stony sadness. For he wished to hurt some part of his body severely, that he might the more patiently bear the wound in his soul. By this act he showed at once his bravery and his grief, and bore his lot like a son who was more afflicted and steadfast. But Biorn received the tidings of his father's death while he was playing at dice, and squeezed so violently the piece that he was grasping that he wrung the blood from his fingers and shed it on the table; whereon he said that assuredly the cast of fate was more fickle than that of the very die which he was throwing. When Ælla heard this, he judged that his father's death had been borne with the toughest and most stubborn spirit by that son of the three who had paid no filial respect to his decease; and therefore he dreaded the bravery of Ivar most.
Ivar went towards England, and when he saw that his fleet was not strong enough to join battle with the enemy, he chose to be cunning rather than bold, and tried a shrewd trick on Ælla, begging as a pledge of peace between them a strip of land as great as he could cover with a horse's hide. He gained his request, for the king supposed that it would cost little, and thought himself happy that so strong a foe begged for a little boon instead of a great one; supposing that a tiny skin would cover but a very little land. But Ivar cut the hide out and lengthened it into very slender thongs, thus enclosing a piece of ground large enough to build a city on. Then Ælla came to repent of his lavishness, and tardily set to reckoning the size of the hide, measuring the little skin more narrowly now that it was cut up than when it was whole. For that which he had thought would encompass a little strip of ground, he saw lying wide over a great estate. Ivar brought into the city, when he founded it, supplies that would serve amply for a siege, wishing the defences to be as good against scarcity as against an enemy.
Meantime, Siward and Biorn came up with a fleet of 400 ships, and with open challenge declared war against the king. This they did at the appointed time; and when they had captured him, they ordered the figure of an eagle to be cut in his back, rejoicing to crush their most ruthless foe by marking him with the cruellest of birds. Not satisfied with imprinting a wound on him, they salted the mangled flesh. Thus Ælla was done to death, and Biorn and Siward went back to their own kingdoms.
Ivar governed England for two years...”
From Book IX of Saxo's ‘Gesta Danorum’, translated by Oliver Elton.
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according to Geffrei Gaimar.
And most of them [the Danes] went in ships
As far as Humber, sails set.
More than twenty thousand went on foot.
Soon you will hear of great marvels.
These Danes returned.
At Grimsby they passed the Humber,
And those on foot likewise.
Great plenty they had of men;
And those who were with the ships
All went to York.
Both by water and by land,
They waged great war at York.
Those who came by water
Sailed as far as the Ouse;
But directly the sun was hidden
The tide turned,
And they then quartered themselves there;
Some on the water, some in tents;
But the chief men, the lords,
Went into houses in the town.
There dwelled a noble man,
Buern Bucecarle was his name.
He lodged all the lords
Very richly, with great honour.
He had brought them thus together,
And summoned them from Denmark
On account of the shame of his wife,
Which he desired eagerly to avenge.
A great shame was done to her.
Osbert held Northumberland.
He dwelt at York.
One day he went to the forest.
He went to hunt in the Vale of Ouse.
Privily he went to eat
At the house of this thane,
Who was named Buern the Bucecarle.
The goodman was then at sea.
For outlaws he was wont to watch.
And the lady, who was very fair,
Of whom the king had heard a report,
Was at the house, as was right;
She had no liking for evil.
Now behold the king come;
With great honour was he received.
When he had eaten as much as he would,
Then he spake the folly which he thought.
“Lady, I wish to speak with you,
Let the room be cleared.”
All went out of the chamber
Except two who kept the doors.
These were the king's companions.
They well knew his secrets.
The lady did not perceive
Why the king did thus.
When he took her, against her will,
He did his will with her.
Then he departed, left her weeping.
To York he spurred,
And when he was with his favourites
Often he joked about it.
The lady mourned much,
For the shame he had done her.
She lost all her colour
From the sorrow he had caused her.
Then behold Buern was grieved,
Who was very noble and gentle.
Among all the seafaring men
There was no braver man on land.
Nor in the kingdom where he was born
Was there any man with better kindred.
When he saw his wife pale,
And saw her weak and thin,
And found her quite changed
From what she was when he left her,
Then he asked what this should be,
What it meant, and what was the matter with her.
She said to him,  “I will tell you,
I will accuse myself,
Then do to me such justice
As if I was taken in theft,”
He replied,  “What has happened?”
“Lately the king lay with me.
By force he did his wickedness.
Now it is right that I should lose my life.
Though this was done secretly
I wish to die openly.
Rather would I die than live longer.”
Fainting she fell at his feet,
And he replied,  “Rise up, my love,
For this you shall not be hated.
Weakness cannot resist strength.
In you are many good signs.
As you have first confessed this to me,
I will have much pity on you.
But if you had hidden it from me
Till another showed it to me,
Never would my heart have loved you,
Nor my mouth have kissed you.
As this felon did his felony,
I will seek that he lose his life.”
Night fell. But at morn
To York he took his way.
He found the king among his people.
Buern had there many good kinsfolk.
The king saw him. He called him.
Buern at once defied him.
“I defy thee, and give thee back all.
I will hold nothing of thee,
Never will I hold aught of thee,
Thy homage I return to thee.”
Then he left the house.
With him came out many good lords.
Then he took counsel of his kin.
He complained to them of the shame;
How the king had treated him;
He told and related the whole to them.
Then he told them that he would go away,
If he could, he would bring the Danes.
Never would his mind be at rest
Till he was avenged of the king.
And his kinsfolk promised
That they would drive him [the king] out of the country.
So they did. For this misdeed
They immediately left the king.
So they made king of the country
A knight whose name was Ælla.
Then it happened, as you hear,
That he brought in the Danes.
At Cawood were lodged
Those who came on board the ships,
But most of the Danes
Came through the midst of Holderness,
And then by the waste country
Till they were near the city.
And the fleet came to meet them.
The king who then held the country [i.e. Ælla]
Was that day gone into the forest,
When they came to the city.
But the other king remained
He who was deprived of the keys [i.e. Osbert].
When the Danes attacked
A little while they defended themselves.
But a short space lasted their defence,
Then the Danes gained the battle.
Soon then was the city taken.
There was great slaughter of men.
Osbert, the king, was killed.
Buern his enemy was avenged.
King Ælla was in the wood,
Four hinds he had then taken.
He was seated at his dinner.
He heard a man ring a bell.
In his hand he held a little bell.
It rang as clear as an eschelette,
The king desired that he should come forward;
That he should have something to eat; for he asked for it.
As the king sat at his meat,
He said to a knight
“We have done very well to-day.
We have killed what we hunted,
Four hinds and six roes.
Often have we hunted worse.”
The blind man heard him, sitting far off;
Then he spake a word of truth:
“Though you taken so much in the forest,
You have lost all this country.
The Danes have done better,
Who have taken York,
And killed many thegns there.
Osbert's enemies have killed him.”
The king replied  “How know you this?”
“My wit has shown it me.
For a sign, if you do not believe me,
Your sister's son, whom you see there,
Orrum, will be the first killed
In the battle at York.
There will be a great battle.
If you believe me you will not go forward
And yet it cannot be otherwise.
A king must lose his head there.”
The king replied:  “Thou hast lied.
Thou shalt be taken and evilly intreated.
If this be not true, thou shalt lose thy life.
Thou must pay for thy sorcery.”
The blind man replied,  “I agree to this.
If this be untrue, kill me.”
The king had him led with him.
He ordered him to be well guarded.
In a high tower
He placed his nephew, that he might stay there.
Then he gave him a task
And promised to send for him.
The folk of the land gathered,
And went with the king to York.
They met wounded men enough,
And runaways, who told them
All that the fortuneteller had said.
Not one word had he lied.
And king Ælla with many folk
Rode on fiercely.
But his nephew did great folly
Whom he had left in the tower.
He took two shields which he found,
He went to the window.
In the shields he put his two arms;
He thought to fly, but a great crash
He came against the earth, when he fell.
But yet he escaped,
So that he was none the worse for it.
He saw a horse, he straightway took it.
A youth was there
Who held the horse by the rein.
Three javelins had he in his hand.
Orrum was no coward.
He seized the javelins straightway.
The horse also he took at once.
Then he mounted. He rode off at once.
The host was already near York.
And he spurred so that he came to the front.
The hosts were assembling.
He thought, as a lighthearted man,
That he would strike the first blow.
At the squadron, which met him,
He threw the javelin which he held.
He struck a horseman
So that it entered his mouth.
Behind his neck it came out.
He could not stand on his feet, the body
Fell dead. It could not be otherwise.
He was a heathen. He needed not a priest.
Orrum held another dart,
Which he threw to the other side.
He struck a wicked Dane with it.
He aimed well at him, he did not miss.
Under the nipple it entered.
It went to his heart. It struck him dead.
But when he [Orrum] would turn back,
An archer let fly a dart.
It struck him under the chest,
So that mortal tidings reached his heart.
His soul fled, his body fell.
As the blind man had declared.
King Ælla when he knew this,
Never before had such grief in his heart.
Hardily he shouted.
He pierced through two squadrons;
But he did this like a mad man
Who had lost all self-control.
Danes were on all sides.
King Ælla was slain.
He was killed in the field,
Few of his men escaped.
The place where he was struck dead
Is now called Ellecroft.
Towards the west there is a cross.
It is in the middle of England.
The English call it Ellecross.
The Danes never rested
Until they had conquered all
This country to the north of Humber.
Lines 2577–2836 of Gaimar's ‘L'Estoire des Engleis’, translated by Sir T.D. Hardy and C.T. Martin.
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Clearly, poetic licence is at work – “A hundred thousand” simply meaning ‘a very large number’. In the law code of Ine (king of the West Saxons 688–726) an army is defined as having more than thirty-five men. This suggests that a typical Anglo-Saxon fighting force could be surprisingly small. Three is a mystical number that frequently appears in literature, but around 300 warriors for such a venture seems reasonable, and, besides, it doesn't seem unreasonable to suppose that each member of the mounted elite would be accompanied by a few common footsoldiers who would be of no interest to a bard.
Din Eidyn, i.e. ‘Fort of Eidyn’, is more familiar in its Anglicized version: Edinburgh. Din Eidyn was evidently Mynyddog Mwynfawr's stronghold.
This would be the earliest reference to Arthur, if it was part of the original poem. ‘Y Gododdin’ survives in two versions, penned by two scribes, in a single later-13th century manuscript (the Book of Aneirin). The work was intended to be performed, not read, so presumably it was transmitted orally for several generations before it was written down at all. In short, although its origins may well lie around the beginning of the 7th century, ‘Y Gododdin’ has been modified along the way, and it is possible, perhaps likely, that this fleeting mention of Arthur is actually a later interpolation.
Danish author of ‘Gesta Danorum’ (Deeds of the Danes), a chronicle (written 1185–1222) of legendary and historical Danish kings. Saxo's story of Amleth provided the basis for Shakespeare's ‘Hamlet’.