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
Kingdom of England Kingdom of Denmark
Commanders and leaders
Edmund Ironside
Eadric Streona (defector)
Thorkell the Tall
Eric Haakonsson
Casualties and losses
"...the nobility of England was there destroyed."

The Battle of Assandun 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.

In earlier times, what is now England had been seven kingdoms; by the late 900s there were two. The Danes ruled two-thirds of England, the Danelaw: the area north of the Thames, along the Lee, northwest through the midlands including eastern Mercia to Chester and the River Dee. The Saxons ruled the area south of the Thames, the west - Wessex and western Mercia.

In response to Edmund's reconquest of recently Danish-occupied Wessex and to various indecisive offensives against Canute's army, Canute besieged London with major support from the English nobility, particularly the Southampton nobles, against the Saxon hierarchy. London withstood the siege and Edmund repulsed the Danes, but needed troops following a successful attack against the Danes in Mercia. Leaving London, Edmund risked travelling into the countryside, which was dominated by enemies and where he was in danger of being attacked by Danish soldiers. Canute's intelligence became aware of Edmund's movements and while marching through Essex Edmund's army was intercepted by Canute. The surprise interception overwhelmed the English, causing some of them to desert, and the Danes poured on the English, killing much of the nobility. Some sources claim that the Danes were losing ground, and that Eadric Streona had previously made a deal with Canute to desert the other English forces.

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.

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.[1]

Primary sources[edit]

Ashingdon hill, likely location of the battle.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has a brief account of the battle.

When the king learned that the enemy army had gone inland, for the fifth time he collected all the English nation, and pursued them and overtook them in Essex at the hill which is called Ashingdon, and they stoutly joined battle there. Then Ealdorman Eadric did as he had often done before, he was the first to start the flight with the Magonsæte [i.e. of Herefordshire], and thus betrayed his liege lord and all the people of England. There Cnut had the victory and won for himself all the English people. There was Bishop Eadnoth killed, and Abbot Wulfsige, and Ealdorman Ælfric, and Godwine, the ealdorman of Lindsey, and Ulfcetel of East Anglia, and Æthelweard, son of Ealdorman Æthelwine, and all the nobility of England was there destroyed.


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.[3]

The most detailed account of the battle is in Encomium Emmae.


  1. ^ "All Saints Church, Ashdon, Essex - History". Retrieved 10 May 2013. 
  2. ^ "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C, s.a. 1016". Duesseldorf: Heinrich-Heine-University. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  3. ^ "Knut's Invasion of England in 1015-16, according to the Knytlinga Saga". De Re Militari. Retrieved 17 October 2011. [dead link]