King Alfred defeats the Danes – 894-897CE

King Alfred defeated the Danish Viking  armies in a series of campaigns. This is how the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports them.

Alfred was the fourth of King Ethelwulf’s sons to come to the throne of Wessex, succeeding three older brothers.

He spent much of his life in battle against the invading Danes, unsuccessfully fighting alongside his brother Ethelred in 868 to keep them out of Mercia, and in a series of nine battles in 870 when they attempted to seize Wessex itself.

King Alfred (c849-899) succeeded to the throne in 871, and was immediately thrown into battle again. In 878, he narrowly escaped with his life after a Danish attack on Chippenham.

Rallying the militia, he drove the Danes out of the South West, and achieved a partition of England at the treaty of Wedmore, with the Danes keeping to the area known as the Danelaw. Although the peace did not hold, Alfred’s final years of battle proved decisive, and by 897, the Danies abandoned their campaign.

Although the Anglo Saxon Chronicle gives the year of his death as 901, it is now known to have taken place on 26 October 899.

This account of Alfred’s final successful campaigns appears in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle: Alfred defeats the Danes

AD 894
This year, that was about twelve months after they had wrought a work in the eastern district, the Northumbrians and East-Angles had given oaths to King Alfred, and the East-Angles six hostages; nevertheless, contrary to the truce, as oft as the other plunderers went out with all their army, then went they also, either with them, or in a separate division. Upon this King Alfred gathered his army, and advanced, so that he encamped between the two armies at the highest point he could find defended by wood and by water, that he might reach either, if they would seek any field. Then went they forth in quest of the wealds, in troops and companies, wheresoever the country was defenceless. But they were also sought after most days by other companies, either by day or by night, both from the army and also from the towns. The king had divided his army into two parts; so that they were always half at home, half out; besides the men that should maintain the towns. The army came not all out of their stations more than twice; once, when they first came to land, ere the forces were collected, and again, when they wished to depart from their stations. They had now seized much booty, and would ferry it northward over Thames into Essex , to meet their ships. But the army rode before them, fought with them at Farnham, routed their forces, and there arrested the booty. And they flew over Thames without any ford, then up by the Colne on an island. Then the king’s forces beset them without as long as they had food; but they had their time set, and their meat noted. And the king was advancing thitherwards on his march with the division that accompanied him. But while he was advancing thitherwards, the other force was returning homewards. The Danes, however, still remained behind; for their king was wounded in the fight, so that they could not carry him. Then collected together those that dwell in Northumbria and East-Anglia about a hundred ships, and went south about; and with some forty more went north about, and besieged a fort in Devonshire by the north sea; and those who went south about beset Exeter . When the king heard that, then went he west towards Exeter with all his force, except a very considerable part of the eastern army, who advanced till they came to London; and there being joined by the citizens and the reinforcements that came from the west, they went east to Barnfleet. Hasten was there with his gang, who before were stationed at Milton , and also the main army had come thither, that sat before in the mouth of the Limne at Appledore. Hasten had formerly constructed that work at Barnfleet, and was then gone out on plunder, the main army being at home. Then came the king’s troops, and routed the enemy, broke down the work, took all that was therein money, women, and children and brought all to London . And all the ships they either broke to pieces, or burned, or brought to London or to Rochester . And Hasten’s wife and her two sons they brought to the king, who returned them to him, because one of them was his godson, and the other Alderman Ethered’s. They had adopted them ere Hasten came to Bamfleet; when he had given them hostages and oaths, and the king had also given him many presents; as he did also then, when he returned the child and the wife. And as soon as they came to Bamfleet, and the work was built, then plundered he in the same quarter of his kingdom that Ethered his compeer should have held; and at another time he was plundering in the same district when his work was destroyed. The king then went westward with the army toward Exeter , as I before said, and the army had beset the city; but whilst he was gone they went to their ships. Whilst he was thus busied there with the army, in the west, the marauding parties were both gathered together at Shobury in Essex , and there built a fortress. Then they both went together up by the Thames , and a great concourse joined them, both from the East-Angles and from the Northumbrians. They then advanced upward by the Thames, till they arrived near the Severn . Then they proceeded upward by the Severn . Meanwhile assembled Alderman Ethered, Alderman Ethelm, Alderman Ethelnoth, and the king’s thanes, who were employed at home at the works, from every town east of the Parret, as well as west of Selwood, and from the parts east and also north of the Thames and west of the Severn , and also some part of North-Wales. When they were all collected together, they overtook the rear of the enemy at Buttington on the banks of the Severn , and there beset them without on each side in a fortress. When they had sat there many weeks on both sides of the water, and the king meanwhile was in Devonshire westward with the naval force, then were the enemy weighed down with famine. They had devoured the greater part of their horses; and the rest had perished with hunger. Then went they out to the men that sat on the eastern side of the river, and fought with them; but the Christians had the victory. And there Ordhelm, the king’s thane, was slain; and also many other king’s thanes; and of the Danes there were many slain, and that part of them that came away escaped only by flight. As soon as they came into Essex to their fortress, and to their ships, then gathered the remnant again in East-Anglia and from the Northumbrians a great force before winter, and having committed their wives and their ships and their booty to the East-Angles, they marched on the stretch by day and night, till they arrived at a western city in Wirheal that is called Chester. There the army could not overtake them ere they arrived within the work: they beset the work though, without, some two days, took all the cattle that was thereabout, slew the men whom they could overtake without the work, and all the corn they either burned or consumed with their horses every evening. That was about a twelvemonth since they first came hither over sea.

AD 895
Soon after that, in this year, went the army from Wirheal into North-Wales; for they could not remain there, because they were stripped both of the cattle and the corn that they had acquired by plunder. When they went again out of North- Wales with the booty they had acquired there, they marched over Northumberland and East-Anglia, so that the king’s army could not reach them till they came into Essex eastward, on an island that is out at sea, called Mersey. And as the army returned homeward that had beset Exeter, they went up plundering in Sussex nigh Chichester; but the townsmen put them to flight, and slew many hundreds of them, and took some of their ships. Then, in the same year, before winter, the Danes, who abode in Mersey, towed their ships up on the Thames , and thence up the Lea. That was about two years after that they came hither over sea.

AD 896
This same year wrought the aforesaid army a work by the Lea, twenty miles above the city of London . Then. in the summer of this year, went a large party of the citizens. and also of other folk, and made an attack on the work of the Danes; but they were there routed, and some four of the king’s thanes were slain. In the harvest afterward the king encamped close to the city, whilst they reaped their corn, that the Danes might not deprive them of the crop. Then, some day, rode the king up by the river; and observed a place where the river might be obstructed, so that they could not bring out their ships. And they did so. They wrought two works on the two sides of the river. And when they had begun the work, and encamped before it, then understood the army that they could not bring out their ships. Whereupon they left them, and went over land, till they came to Quatbridge by Severn ; and there wrought a work. Then rode the king’s army westward after the enemy. And the men of London fetched the ships; and all that they could not lead away they broke up; but all that were worthy of capture they brought into the port of London . And the Danes procured an asylum for their wives among the East-Angles, ere they went out of the fort. During the winter they abode at Quatbridge. That was about three years since they came hither over sea into the mouth of the Limne.

AD 897
In the summer of this year went the army, some into East-Anglia, and some into Northumbria; and those that were penniless got themselves ships, and went south over sea to the Seine. The enemy had not, thank God. entirely destroyed the English nation; but they were much more weakened in these three years by the disease of cattle, and most of all of men; so that many of the mightiest of the king’s thanes. that were in the land, died within the three years. Of these. one was Swithulf Bishop of Rochester, Ceolmund alderman in Kent, Bertulf alderman in Essex, Wulfred alderman in Hampshire, Elhard Bishop of Dorchester, Eadulf a king’s thane in Sussex, Bernuff governor of Winchester, and Egulf the king’s horse-thane; and many also with them; though I have named only the men of the highest rank. This same year the plunderers in East-Anglia and Northumbria greatly harassed the land of the West-Saxons by piracies on the southern coast, but most of all by the esks which they built many years before. Then King Alfred gave orders for building long ships against the esks, which were full-nigh twice as long as the others. Some had sixty oars, some more; and they were both swifter and steadier, and also higher than the others. They were not shaped either after the Frisian or the Danish model, but so as he himself thought that they might be most serviceable. Then, at a certain turn of this same year, came six of their ships to the Isle of Wight; and going into Devonshire , they did much mischief both there and everywhere on the seacoast. Then commanded the king his men to go out against them with nine of the new ships, and prevent their escape by the mouth of the river to the outer sea. Then came they out against them with three ships, and three others were standing upwards above the mouth on dry land: for the men were gone off upon shore. Of the first three ships they took two at the mouth outwards, and slew the men; the third veered off, but all the men were slain except five; and they too were severely wounded. Then came onward those who manned the other ships, which were also very uneasily situated. Three were stationed on that side of the deep where the Danish ships were aground, whilst the others were all on the opposite side; so that none of them could join the rest; for the water had ebbed many furlongs from them. Then went the Danes from their three ships to those other three that were on their side, be-ebbed; and there they then fought. There were slain Lucomon, the king’s reve, and Wulfheard, a Frieslander; Ebb, a Frieslander, and Ethelere, a Frieslander; and Ethelferth, the king’s neat-herd; and of all the men, Frieslanders and English, sixty-two; of the Danes a hundred and twenty. The tide, however, reached the Danish ships ere the Christians could shove theirs out; whereupon they rowed them out; but they were so crippled, that they could not row them beyond the coast of Sussex : there two of them the sea drove ashore; and the crew were led to Winchester to the king, who ordered them to be hanged. The men who escaped in the single ship came to East-Anglia, severely wounded. This same year were lost no less than twenty ships, and the men withal, on the southern coast. Wulfric, the king’s horse-thane, who was also viceroy of Wales , died the same year.

AD 901
This year died ALFRED, the son of Ethelwulf, six nights before the mass of All Saints. He was king over all the English nation, except that part that was under the power of the Danes. He held the government one year and a half less than thirty winters; and then Edward his son took to the government.

Source: Anglo Saxon Chronicle, available in full at The online medieval and classical library.