Treaty of Wedmore

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The Treaty of Wedmore [a] is a 9th-century accord between Alfred the Great of Wessex and the Viking king Guthrum the Old. The only contemporary reference to this treaty, is that of a Welsh monk Asser in his biography of Alfred, (known as Vita Ælfredi regis Angul Saxonum or Life of Alfred). In it Asser describes how after Guthrum's defeat at the Battle of Edington, followed by his surrender some days later, he agreed to a peace treaty with Alfred. The treaty was conditional on Guthrum's being baptised (to endorse the agreement, plus allow him to rule more legitimately over his christian vassals, while remaining pagan to his pagan vassals), and also Guthrum and his army leaving Wessex.

Sources and historical context[edit]

Statue of Alfred the Great at Winchester

In 878 King Alfred of Wessex defeated the Viking Great Army at the Battle of Edington. Guthrum, the Viking leader, retreated with the remnants of his army to their "stronghold", where Alfred besieged him.[1]

After fourteen days the Vikings, according to Asser:

"..thoroughly terrified by hunger, cold and fear and in the end despair, sought peace on this condition: the king should take as many hostages as he wanted from them and give none to them.."

— Asser 1983, pp. 84–85

Alfred accepted Guthrum's surrender and the Vikings gave Alfred peace hostages:

[They] "swore in addition that they would leave his kingdom immediately, and Guthrum, their king, promised to accept Christianity and to receive baptism at King Alfred's hand; all of which he and his men fulfilled as they had promised..."

— Asser 1983, pp. 84–85

Three weeks later Guthrum and thirty of his most important men went to Alfred at Aller, near Athelney. There Guthrum was baptised, with Alfred accepting him as his adoptive son. The unbinding of the chrisom, part of baptismal ritual, took place eight days later at the royal estate and church at Wedmore near Cheddar.[1][2]

Guthrum adopted the baptismal name of Athelstan. The following twelve days Guthrum and his chiefs stayed with Alfred where they were honoured with gifts and feasting.[1] During the summer of 878, Guthrum's army remained in Chippenham. Then, as agreed Guthrum and his army moved out of Wessex, and travelled the relatively short distance[b] to Cirencester (in the Kingdom of Mercia) and then eventually on to East Anglia.[1][3]

Misinterpretation and confusion[edit]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 878 has a similar description to Asser. It details Alfred's movements before, during and after the Battle of Edington. It describes Guthrum's surrender, his baptism at Wedmore and the twelve days of celebration. [4] The only reference to an accord at Wedmore is that from Asser's "Life of Alfred". If there was a formal treaty, contemporary with the events at Wedmore in 878, no such document still exists. A truce was made and, at a later date,[c] a formal treaty was agreed. This one was known as the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum and it defines the boundaries between Alfred and Guthrum's territories, as well as agreements on peaceful trade and the weregild value of its people. This document still survives[d] and is part of the Laws of Alfred.[10] The treaty is seen as a precursor to the formation of Danelaw.[e][12]

The Treaty of Wedmore and the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum have often been confused with each other.[13] It is possible that the Treaty of Wedmore in 878, by which Guthrum had to accept baptism and leave Wessex, was a verbal agreement. The formal, written Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum, dividing up the kingdoms, followed some years [c] later.[5]


  1. ^ Also known as the Treaty of Chippenham or the Peace of Wedmore.
  2. ^ About 20 miles (32 km)
  3. ^ a b The actual date is not known. The latest possible date is agreed as 890 as this is the year Guthrum died; however, the earliest date varies according to historian. For example, Giles Morgan suggests 879 and David Horspool 886.[5][6] The treaty of Alfred and Guthrum ascribes Viking-held London to Alfred, so some historians have suggested that the treaty would not have been finalised until Alfred reoccupied the city in 886. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 885 says that "...the army from East-Anglia broke their peace with Alfred," which might indicate that the treaty had been signed earlier.[7]
  4. ^ There is an Old English version at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge MS 383, and in a legal collection compiled and translated into Latin during the reign of Henry I of England, known as the Quadripartitus. [8] [9]
  5. ^ The "Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum" was probably just a way to manage the border between the two kings, rather than have any long term objectives, such as the foundation of Danelaw. See Lesley Abrams in Edward the Elder: 899-924 for a discussion on the subject.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d Wood 2005, pp. 124–125.
  2. ^ Asser 1983, pp. 84–85.
  3. ^ Stenton 1971, p. 257.
  4. ^ Gransden 1996, p. 36.
  5. ^ a b Morgan 2018, p. 113.
  6. ^ Horspool 2006, p. 123.
  7. ^ Smyth 1995, pp. 92–93.
  8. ^ Whitelock 1996, pp. 417–418.
  9. ^ Asser 1983, p. 311.
  10. ^ Attenborough 1922, pp. 96–101.
  11. ^ Abrams 2001, p. 132.
  12. ^ Ayto & Crofton 2005, p. 1176.
  13. ^ Keynes 1999, pp. 225–356.


  • Abrams, Lesley (2001). "Edward the Elder's Danelaw". In Higham, N. J.; Hill, D. H. (eds.). Edward the Elder 899–924. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-21497-1.
  • Asser (1983). "Life of King Alfred". In Keynes, Simon; Lapidge, Michael (eds.). Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred & Other Contemporary Sources. Penguin Classics. ISBN 978-0-14-044409-4.
  • Attenborough, F.L. Tr, ed. (1922). "Treaties with the Danes". The laws of the earliest English kings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. OCLC 460226655.
  • Ayto, John; Crofton, Ian (2005). Brewer's Britain and Ireland. London: Weidenfeld & Nichoson. ISBN 0-304-35385-X.
  • Gransden, Antonia (1996). Historical Writing in England: c. 500 to c. 1307. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-15124-4.
  • Horspool, David (2006). Why Alfred Burned the Cakes. London: Profile Books. ISBN 1-8619-7786-7.
  • Keynes, Simon (1999). "The Cult of King Alfred the Great". Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge University Press. 28: 225–356. doi:10.1017/S0263675100002337. ISSN 0263-6751. JSTOR 44512350.
  • Morgan, Giles (2018). Short History of the Anglo Saxons. Somerton, Somerset: Oldcastle Books. ISBN 978-0-85730-166-6.
  • Smyth, Alfred P. (1995). King Alfred the Great. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-822989-5.
  • Stenton, F. M. (1971). Anglo-Saxon England 3rd edition. Oxford: OUP. p. 257. ISBN 978-0-19-280139-5.
  • Whitelock, Dorothy, ed. (1996). The treaty between Alfred and Guthrum. English Historical Documents. Vol. 1 (2 ed.). Oxford: Routledge. ISBN 0-203-43950-3.
  • Wood, Michael (2005). In Search of the Dark Ages. London: BBC. ISBN 978-0-563-52276-8.

External links[edit]