Battle of Assandun

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Battle of Assandun
Part of the Viking Invasions of England
Date18 October 1016
Location
Unknown; various locations possible, but probably somewhere in Essex
Result Danish victory
Belligerents
Kingdom of England Kingdom of Denmark Jomsborg Vikings
Commanders and leaders
Edmund Ironside Cnut the Great
Thorkell the Tall
Strength
More Thousands of Danish and Jomsviking army
Casualties and losses
Heavier Lighter
Ashingdon hill, possible location of the battle

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, England, or, as long supposed, Ashingdon near Rochford in south-east Essex. It ended in victory for the Danes, led by King Cnut, who triumphed over the English army led by King Edmund Ironside. The battle was the conclusion to the Danish conquest of England.

Prelude[edit]

On 23 April 1016, King Æthelred the Unready died from an illness that he had been suffering from since the previous year. Two opposing assemblies gathered to name his successor; an assembly of London citizens declared Edmund king and the larger Witan at Southampton declared Cnut as king.[2] During the autumn of 1016, King Edmund raised an army consisting of West-Saxon troops as well as men from Southern England to defeat a Danish force led by King Cnut that had sailed across the Thames into Essex.[3]

Battle[edit]

On 18 October, as the Danes returned to their ships, the two forces finally engaged with each other at a place called Assandun, the exact location being disputed. Edmund formed his men into three lines and fought amongst the front lines to encourage his men, while Cnut, more of a strategist than a warrior, did not fight amongst his ranks.[4] According to the Encomium Emmae Reginae, the battle lasted all day and that during the midst of fighting, it seemed to the English that the Danes were not so much fighting as raging, and that the Danes were determined to die before they would withdraw.[5] During the battle, Eadric Streona the ealdorman of Mercia, left the battle allowing the Scandinavians to break through the English lines and win a decisive victory.[6] The version in the Encomium Emmae Reginae says that Eadric urged his men to flee before the battle began, saying “Let us flee and snatch our lives from imminent death, or else we will fall forthwith, for I know the hardihood of the Danes”. Seeing a good chunk of his army leave the field, Edmund was undeterred. He told his warriors that they were better off without the craven men who deserted them, and he advanced into the midst of the enemy, cutting down the Danes on all sides. Although the English had more men, they lost more men, too, than the Danes.[5] Eadric Streona had previously defected to Cnut when he landed in England but after Cnut's defeat at the Battle of Otford he came back to the English. However, this was a trick, as he again betrayed the English at Assandun.[6]

During the course of the battle, Eadnoth the Younger, Bishop of Dorchester on Thames, was killed by Cnut's men whilst in the act of saying mass on behalf of Edmund Ironside's men. According to the Liber Eliensis, Eadnoth's hand was first cut off for a ring, and then his body cut to pieces.[7] The ealdorman Ulfcytel Snillingr also died in the battle.

Aftermath[edit]

Following his defeat, Edmund was forced to sign a treaty with Cnut. By this treaty, all of England except Wessex would be controlled by Cnut 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, Cnut became the king of all of England.[8] On 18 October 1032, a church at Assandun was consecrated to commemorate the battle and those who had died during it.[9]

Battlefield location[edit]

There is another possible location of the battle; Ashdon, also in Essex, or closer to nearby Hadstock. There have been many finds of Roman and Anglo-Saxon coins in the area and the construction of the Saffron Walden to Bartlow branch line through the 'Red Field' between Hadstock and Linton in the 1860s discovered a large number of skeletal remains. Historians have argued inconclusively over the different sites for years. Ashdon's 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 Cnut's conquest. 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. A possible site for Cnut's church is St Botolph's Church in Hadstock, known to date from the early 11th century, still largely extant, and much closer to an alternative battle site.[10][11]

Legacy[edit]

The battle is mentioned briefly in Knýtlinga saga which quotes a verse of skaldic poetry by Óttarr svarti, one of Cnut'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.[12]

In 2016, the one thousandth anniversary of the battle was celebrated in Ashingdon with a re-enactment.[13]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bartlett, W. B. (2018). King Cnut and the Viking Conquest of England 1016. Amberley Publishing.
  • Benton, Philip (1867). The History of Rochford Hundred. A. Harrington.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Smith, Ernest F. Fairbairn, W. H. (ed.). Tewkesbury Abbey. Notes on Famous Churches and Abbeys. [1916]. London: SPCK. p. 2.
  2. ^ Roberts, Steve (March 2022). "The House of Wessex". Family Tree Magazine: 49. ISSN 0267-1131. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
  3. ^ Gilbert, Joshua (2012). "Mercenaries, warlords and kings 1009-1018: The Danish conquest of England". Medieval Warfare. 2 (1): 29. JSTOR 48578629. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
  4. ^ Gilbert, p. 32
  5. ^ a b "The Battle of Assandun | Patricia Bracewell". www.patriciabracewell.com. Retrieved 23 July 2023.
  6. ^ a b Who Is History's Worst Political Adviser? Four historians consider the harm caused by those who should have helped their political masters. (2020). History Today, 70(7), 8–10.
  7. ^ Fairweather, Janet, trans., Liber Eliensis (Woodbridge, 2005), p. 169
  8. ^ Gilbert, p. 33
  9. ^ Webster, Paul (October 2020). "The Cult of St Edmund, King and Martyr, and the Medieval Kings of England". History. 418 (697): 636–651. doi:10.1111/1468-229X.13029. S2CID 225231585. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
  10. ^ "All Saints Church, Ashdon, Essex – History". Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  11. ^ "In Search of the Battle of Assandun – Magnitude Surveys".
  12. ^ "Knut's Invasion of England in 1015-16, according to the Knytlinga Saga". De Re Militari. Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  13. ^ Drake, K. (29 June 2016). IN PICTURES: Celebration marks 1,000 years since the Battle of Assandun. Echo [Basildon, England]. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A529269784/STND?u=wikipedia&sid=ebsco&xid=57254c4b