Byrhtnoth (Byrhtnoþ, also spelled Byrhtnoð, Byrihtnoð, Brihtnoþ, Beorhtnoþ, Beorhtnoð, Baeorhtnoð) was a 10th-century Ealdorman of Essex. His name is composed of Old English beorht (bright) and noth (courage).
He died as the leader of the Anglo-Saxon forces in the Battle of Maldon against the Vikings in 991, the subject of a famous Old English poem. As presented there, his decision to allow the Vikings to move to a better position was heroic but fatal, though this may not represent reality. He was said to stand well over six foot in height, and was around the age of sixty years at the Battle of Maldon, with "swan-white hair". Although it is believed that he fell early in the battle, some say that it took three men to kill him, one of them almost severing Byrhtnoth's arm in the process. He had previously had several military successes, presumably also against Viking raiders. He was a patron of Ely Cathedral, giving them many villages (Spaldwick, Trumpington, Rettenden, Hesberen ....), and his body is buried there, alongside that of Archbishop Wulfstan the homilist. The Liber Eliensis records that his widow gave the Cathedral a tapestry or hanging celebrating his deeds, presumably in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry, the only surviving example of such a work. This was given immediately after his death, so had probably previously been hanging in his home.
Byrhtnoth was married to Ælfflæd, sister of Dowager Queen Æthelflæd of Damerham, and thus a kinsman of King Edgar by marriage. Post-Norman Conquest material mentions a daughter of Byrhtnoth named Leofflæd. Recently, a statue created by John Doubleday has been placed at the end of the Maldon Promenade Walk, facing the battlesite of Northey Island and the Causeway.
In Modern Literature
J.R.R. Tolkien's short play in verse, "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm's Son" takes place on the battlefield of Maldon, dealing with the death of Byrhtnoth.
- Dodwell, C.R.; Anglo-Saxon Art, A New Perspective, pp. 134-136, 1982, Manchester UP, ISBN 0-7190-0926-X
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