Battle of Assandun

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Battle of Assandun
Part of Viking invasions of England
EdmundIronside Canutethe Dane1.jpg
Edmund Ironside (left) fights Canute the Great (right).
Date 18 October 1016
Location Ashingdon or Ashdon, Essex, England
Result Decisive Danish Victory
Belligerents
Kingdom of England Kingdom of Denmark
Commanders and leaders
Edmund Ironside
Eadric Streona (defector)
Cnut
Thorkell the Tall
Eric Haakonsson

The Battle of Assandun (or Essendune)[1] was fought between Danish and English armies on 18 October 1016. There is disagreement whether Assandun may be Ashdon near Saffron Walden in north Essex or, as long supposed, Ashingdon near Rochford in southeast Essex, England. It was a victory for the Danes, led by Canute the Great (Cnut, Knut or Knud), who triumphed over the English army led by King Edmund II ('Ironside'). The battle was the conclusion to the Danish reconquest of England.

Battle[edit]

Ashingdon hill, possible location of the battle.

"When the king understood that the army was up, then collected he for the fifth time all the English nation, and went behind them, and overtook them in Essex, on the down called Ashingdon ..."

—Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

"There he [Edmund] quickly formed his line of battle, supporting it with bodies of reserve three deep... Meanwhile Canute very slowly brought his men down to a level ground; but king Eadmund, on the contrary, moved his forces as he had arranged them with great rapidity, and suddenly gave the word to attack the Danes. The armies fought obstinately, and many fell on both sides. But the traitorous ealdorman, Edric Streona, seeing that the Danish line was giving way, and that the English were getting the victory, kept the promise which he had previously made to Canute, and fled with the Magesetas [Magonsæte], and that division of the army which he commanded; thus craftily circumventing his lord king Eadmund and the English army, and by his craft throwing the victory into the hands of the Danes."

—John of Worcester

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does not mention that Eadric had made a prior agreement with Cnut, but implies he was simply a coward. The Encomiast, however, writes:

"And according to some, it was afterwards evident that he [Eadric] did this not out of fear but in guile; and what many assert is that he had promised this secretly to the Danes in return for some favour."

—Encomium Emmae Reginae

The Encomiast also gives other little details like Thorkell inspiring the Danish troops and there being a magic banner before the battle. The battle is said to have started "in the ninth hour of the day" and carried on into the night. The Danes:

... did not pursue the fugitives far, for they were unfamiliar with the locality, and were held back by the darkness of night... Then, when it was already past midnight, the victors, rejoicing in their triumph. passed the remainder of the night among the bodies of the dead. They did not, however, divide the spoil in the night, but in the meantime sought their companions, and gathering together in order to be more secure, remained all together in one place. At the coming of the morning light they became aware that many of their men had fallen in battle, and so far as they could, they buried their bodies. They also stripped the spoil from the limbs of their enemies, but left their bodies to the beasts and birds ..."

—Encomium Emmae Reginae

The battle is also mentioned briefly in Knýtlinga saga which quotes a verse of skaldic poetry by Óttarr svarti, one of Canute's court poets.

King Knut fought the third battle, a major one, against the sons of Æthelred at a place called Ashington, north of the Danes' Woods. In the words of Ottar:

At Ashington, you worked well
in the shield-war, warrior-king;
brown was the flesh of bodies
served to the blood-bird:
in the slaughter, you won,
sire, with your sword
enough of a name there,
north of the Danes' Woods.[2]

Aftermath[edit]

Following his defeat, Edmund was forced to sign a treaty with Canute. By this treaty, all of England except Wessex would be controlled by Canute and when one of the kings should die the other would take all of England, that king's son being the heir to the throne. After Edmund's death on 30 November, Canute duly ruled the whole kingdom directly. Thus for the first time England became a single united kingdom, covering the same territory as it does today.

Canute was accustomed to building a church, chapel or holy site after winning a battle to commemorate the soldiers who died in battle. A few years later in 1020 the completion took place of the memorial church known as Ashingdon Minster, on the hill next to the presumed site of the battle in Ashingdon. The church still stands to this day. Canute attended the dedication of Ashingdon Minster with his bishops and appointed his personal priest, Stigand, to be priest there. The church is now dedicated to Saint Andrew but is believed previously to have been dedicated to Saint Michael, who was considered a military saint: churches dedicated to him are frequently located on a hill.

Casualties[edit]

Three Ealdorman:

Two churchmen:

One other:

Battlefield location[edit]

There is another possible location of the battle; Ashdon, also in Essex. There have been many finds of Roman and Anglo-Saxon coins in the area. Historians have argued inconclusively over the two sites for years. There is some strong evidence: a couple of Anglo-Saxon wills that definitely show Ashdon as the battle site.[citation needed] Also, the 10th century wooden village church, itself possibly built on the site of a pre-Christian temple, was probably rebuilt in stone in the early 11th century, about the right time for Canute's conquest. Unfortunately little remains of the earlier structures, which were largely obliterated by the construction of the current church of All Saints during the late 13th to early 15th centuries.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Smith, Ernest F. Fairbairn, W. H., ed. Tewkesbury Abbey. Notes on Famous Churches and Abbeys. [1916]. London: SPCK. p. 2. 
  2. ^ "Knut's Invasion of England in 1015-16, according to the Knytlinga Saga". De Re Militari. Retrieved 17 October 2011. [dead link]
  3. ^ "All Saints Church, Ashdon, Essex - History". Retrieved 10 May 2013.