1001 years ago – The Battle of Assandun

1001 years ago – The Battle of Assandun

The 18th October 2017 will mark the 1001st anniversary of one of the most important conflicts ever fought on English soil, the Battle of Assandun, a major confrontation between the Anglo Saxons and the Vikings.

The Anglo Saxon Army, led by the warrior King of England, Edmund Ironside, attempted to cut off the Vikings who were retreating to their ships after raiding the Mercia (Midlands) region over the previous weeks.

A pitched battle followed that reportedly lasted from mid morning until it was “too dark to see clearly” with a decisive victory going to the Viking forces led by their King Cnut. A contemporary report indicated that “all the flower of the Angle kin was slain”.

Treachery had counted against Edmund when one of the English ealdormen (later called earls) Eadric Streona led his forces from the field leaving Edmund exposed to Cnut’s attacks. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle in an account of the battle written soon after described Eadric’s action as traitorous in that “he betrayed his natural lord and all the people of England”. He was also despised by many of the English nobility. William of Malmsbury later described him as “ the refuse of mankind, the reproach of the English; an abandoned glutton, a cunning miscreant who had become opulent, not by nobility but by specious language and impudence”.

Following the Battle, Edmund and Cnut made peace and decided to partition England with territories north of the Thames ruled by Cnut and those south by Edmund. However this plan was thwarted by Edmund’s death on 30th November, only a little more than a month after Assandun, very possibly from wounds received in the battle. Cnut then became the King of all England.

The actual site of the battle has long been debated with some scholars believing that today’s Ashingdon in southeast Essex is the battle location. But another possibility is Ashdon, in north Essex, where archaeological evidence discovered over the years lends some support to this theory.


Image: A depiction of King Edmund by an unknown artist in the 14th Century courtesy of Wikimedia Commons