Battle of Cynwit
|Battle of Cynwit|
|Part of the Viking invasions of England|
Cannington hill fort, a possible site of the battle
|Commanders and leaders|
|Odda, Ealdorman of Devon||Ubba †|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Cynwit,[a] was a battle between West Saxons and Vikings in 878 at a fort which Asser calls Cynwit. The location of the battle is not known for sure but probably was at Countisbury Hill[b], near Countisbury, Devon.[c]
The Viking army, by tradition, led by Ubba[d] brother of Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson. Sailed from Dyfed (where they had overwintered) and landed on the coast at Countisbury[c] with 23 ships and twelve hundred men. On landing the Viking army discovered that the West Saxons[e] had taken refuge in a stronghold at Cynuit (Countisbury?), they perceived that the stronghold was unprepared for battle and decided to besiege it instead, particularly as the stronghold did not seem to have any food or water supply.
According to Asser [f] (Alfred's biographer) the West Saxons burst out of the fortress, one day, at dawn and were able to overwhelm the Viking forces killing their leader and over eight hundred of his men. They also captured the fabled "Raven banner".The Anglo Saxon Chronicle reported it thus:
And the same winter the brother of Hingwar and of Halfdene came with twenty-three ships to Devonshire in Wessex; and he was there slain, and with him eight hundred and forty men of his army: and there was taken the war-flag which they called the Raven.— Giles 1914, ASC 878
At the time of the battle Alfred the Great was on the run from the Vikings in the marshes of Somerset. It was therefore an important victory for the West Saxons won by someone other than Alfred, the king of Wessex who at the time was spearheading the West Saxon resistance to the Viking invasions. The Chronicle, in addressing the year 878, makes the claim that "all but Alfred the King" had been subdued by the Vikings:
This year, during midwinter, after twelfth night, the army stole away to Chippenham, and overran the land of the West-Saxons, and sat down there; and many of the people they drove beyond sea, and of the remainder the greater part they subdued and forced to obey them, except king Alfred— Giles 1914, ASC 878
The battle in fiction
The battle appears in The Marsh King, a children's historical novel by C. Walter Hodges, where its location is called "Kynwit". Although this novel is about King Alfred, it gives due credit to Ealdorman Odda for this victory, although the description of the battle may not be very accurate, showing the Vikings as making a landing at night and being defeated immediately on the landing ground.
The battle also features in Bernard Cornwell's novel The Last Kingdom. Cornwell ascribes the victory, as well as the killing of Ubba, to his hero Uhtred, though he is supported by forces commanded by Odda.
- Alternative spellings of Cynwit include Cynuit. It is also known as the Battle of Countisbury Hill.
- More commonly known as Wind Hill 
- A possible, alternative site for the seige and battle was at was Cannington Camp in the Parrett estuary near Combwich
- The Anglo Saxon Chronicle does not name the leader of the Vikings but by tradition it is said to have been Ubba. Legend has it that Ubba's father was Ragnar Lodbrok however there is no references in the annals to support this assertion. 
- According to the 10th century chronicler Æthelweard the West Saxons were led by Odda, Ealdorman of Devon
- The historian, Barbara Yorke suggests that Asser's detailed account of the area may indicate that he visited the site of the siege.
- Baggs, A P; Siraut, M C. (1992). "Cannington". In Dunning, R W; Elrington, C R (eds.). A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6: Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and neighbouring parishes). British History Online. pp. 73–76. Retrieved 4 August 2021.
- Cornwell, Bernard (2005). The Last Kingdom. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-714991-3.
- Exmoor National Park (2014). "MDE1236 - Countisbury Castle or Wind Hill Promontory Fort". Exmoor's Past. Exmoor National Park. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- Giles, J.A. (1914). Wikisource. . London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd. – via
- Giles, J A, ed. (1906). "The Chronicle of Fabius Ethelwerd". Six Old English Chronicles. London: Henry G. Bohn. OCLC 59720584.
- Hindley, Geoffrey (2015). The Anglo Saxons. London: Robinson. ISBN 978-1-84529-161-7.
- Historic England (2002). "Earthwork defences of Countisbury Castle promontory fort (1020807)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 2021-08-05.
- Ingram, James, ed. (1912) . "Years 871-78". The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. London: Everyman Press. Archived from the original on 2018-01-04. Retrieved 2012-03-21.
- James, Jeffrey (2013). An Onslaught of Spears: The Danish Conquest of England. The History Press. ISBN 9780750951982.
- Kendrick, T.D. (2004). A History of the Vikings. Courier Corporation. ISBN 9780486433967.
- Keynes, Simon; Lapidge, Michael (1983). Alfred the Great, Asser's Life of King Alfred and other contemporary sources. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044409-2.
- Munch, Peter Andreas (1926). Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes (English : Reiss. [of the ed.] New York: American-Scandinavian Foundation ed.). Detroit: Singing Tree Press. OCLC 917739133.
- National Trust (2014). "Countisbury circular walk via Winston's Path". National Trust. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- Yorke, Barbara (1995). Wessex in the Early Middle Ages. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-16639-X.
- Keary, C. F (1891). The Vikings in Western Christendom. London: T. Fisher Unwin.
- Smyth, Alfred P (1995). King Alfred the Great. Oxford University Press.
- Early sources
- Asser (1908). The Life of King Alfred. Chatto & Windus.
- Æthelweard (1961). "Chronicon". In Campbell, Alistair (ed.). The Chronicle of Æthelweard. London.