Posted by: kljolly | October 9, 2013


So I walked into a scholarly minefield in my latest excursion to locate Aldred in the temporal and geographic landscape of the early tenth century.  I am trying to fill in the gap years from his birth sometime around 918 and his appearance as a priest at Chester-le-Street circa 950.  I have already created a scenario for his family and his parents fleeing from Cumbria to Northumbria.  I have also posited an early stint as priest at Crayke circa 948.  But where was he as a young man?

My timeline for the reign of Wessex King Athelstan (924-39) is full of complicated events in the north, much of it murky (starting with the invasion of Northumbria in 927 and the settlement of some kind with nothern forces at Eamont Bridge).  None, however, is more problematic than the famed Battle of Brunanburh (937) celebrated in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle poem as well as other records.  The two (inter-related) controversies are 1) Where was the battle?  and 2) Was it a major victory for English hegemony over all of Britain, or a Pyrrhic victory for the English in which the coalition of northern Scots, Strathcyldes, Cumbrians, and Irish-Norse Dublin forces showed the tenuousness of Athelstan’s claims?

Now I thought I could chart a straightforward path to understanding this event by using The Battle of Brunanburh:  A Casebook, edited by Michael Livingston (Exeter:  University of Exeter Press, 2011).  This is an excellent resource containing all of the primary sources in facing page original languages and translations.  It also includes a series of essays on the sources and on the battle, including an introductory survey by the editor.  Unfortunately it seems to have made a premature decision to declare one site as the overwhelming favorite for the battle and includes only proponents of that view, rather than, as a casebook might, including rebuttal arguments.  The editor and authors also favor the victory as supporting Athelstan’s claim as king of all Britain.  Livingston has a blog that  responds to critics of the volume, although I am not convinced that the naysayers are just local historians arguing from a northern bias, nor are their views limited to a Humber alternative.

BrunanburhSo here are the main candidates for the site of the battle:

  • Bromborough on the Wirral, supported by Livingston in the Casebook and most prominently argued by Paul Cavill in his essay “The Place-Name Debate” (a good place to start for a survey of different views on the philological arguments, although I think the linguistic turns may prove circular).
  • Burnswark in Dumfrieshire, supported by Kevin Halloran in dialogue with Cavill’s arguments.  Halloran’s 2010 article modifies his 2005 article in response to Cavill’s arguments about -burh.
  • Brinsworth, supported by Michael Wood (see Cavill’s essay, p. 341).
  • Lanchester in County Durham, a recent proposal by Andrew Breeze with an article forthcoming.  This site, a mere 7 miles from Chester-le-Street, seems less likely to me because the battle receives no mention in the very pro-Athelstan Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, although it is featured in the later works of Symeon of Durham.
  • Site on the west coast, north of the Ribble Estuary, a possibility Tim Clarkson is currently exploring, promising a future post on his other blog, Senchus.  Tim proposes to look at the military logistics, something that Livingston also does and that may be more promising than the philological arguments about the place name.

I don’t have a preference at the moment, other than thinking that the logistical arguments are more fruitful than the philological.

However, it does matter to me in trying to locate not just Aldred in his youth but also the role of the community at Chester-le-Street.  Athelstan on his earlier campaign to the north in 934 diverted to Chester-le-Street and gave lavish gifts to the community, recorded prominently in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto (HSC), with Athelstan claiming Cuthbert as his patron saint.  Presumably three years later, the saint and the community would have still been Athelstan supporters.

If it was an overwhelming victory for Athelstan, why is it not recorded in the HSC?  Possibly because the HSC is primarily concerned with land claims (gifts as well as thefts) and if the battle did not affect their lands one way or the other, they did not see a need to recount it.  That means, possibly, that the battle took place not on or near Cuthbertine lands and that the coalition forces opposing Athelstan were not a permanent threat to their lands, coming or going, although they are recorded as harrying.   Athelstan’s victory, however much it may have cost him, did not cost St. Cuthbert’s community, apparently.  The HSC does not have Cuthbert claiming credit (since the battle is left unrecorded), although Symeon’s later account has Athelstan crediting St. Cuthbert (unsurprisingly since it is Symeon’s task to show how Cuthbert is in everything).

Aldred would have been a young man of 19 in 937, probably in clerical orders somewhere in Northumbria.  The upheavals in the north during Athelstan’s reign could not have gone unnoticed by him, but how close might he have been to some of the action?  Would relatives and friends have been in the battle, and on what sides?



  1. There’s also the suggestion (perhaps overlooked by the specialists in the subject) of a site near Heysham, North Lancashire – see

    and also ‘Brunanburh Discovered’ by WH Lawrenson in ‘The Over-Wyre Historical Journal, Vol IX, 2003 who basically had already suggested the same site.

    I’ve no idea if Heysham has any validity, although the place-name they cite appears a good match.

    • Thanks, Dan, for these two leads. I was hoping you would chime in with some local archaeological knowledge.

      • Dan, although ‘expert’ may be overstating things in my case I would say that I have not overlooked Heysham. I have been aware of the 13th century charter evidence since the early 1990s and have also discussed Heysham at length with both Mick Deakin and Clare Downham. In my view there are important objections to the identification. The second element of the feature named in the charters derives I think from OE ‘berg’ rather than ‘burh’ and refers to a very large rock which was demolished during construction of the harbour.

      • Thanks for saying your taken by the suggestion of Brougham
        Brovacum , Whinfell is the clincher , yes it came on an off hand remark made by my friend J Jackson , i dont even think he figured out the Whinfell (Vinheath bit). I am writing a book about Arthur of Cumbria and was looking into Brougham as linked to Breguion .Mt Agned being the pre Norse name for Whinfell , on an Ancient map one can see earthworks and im starting to think this is the fort of Guinnion , the white fort , as the stone here differs from the other sandstone of the Eden valley.Now Carlisle was a seaport then on the Eden and is only 18 miles away , other contenders include Workington Whitehaven Maryport and Ravenglass and possibly Longtown (my Llongborth).One really far fetched but plausible idea was Dingesmere is the Derwent water , as its quite navigable to Sail from here to the sea (really!).please email me K i would like to discuss this further. holdenp5b at hotmail

    • I am certainly not an expert in the subject at all and so have only read a tiny proportion of the relevant literature. I wasn’t aware of how much Heysham had been discussed already but I’d never seen it mentioned except in the two examples I mentioned.

  2. I love topics like this and the fact that there’ll almost certainly never be a definitive identification of the battle-site. No shortage of treatments of one source as superior to others regardless of date and context and “here’s a place-name that looks like Brunanburh so it must be the battle-site” lines of argument in evidence in one or two the links above and the references therein. It will be interesting to see how the logistical angle is handled, since I can’t quite see how it would be based on anything more than informed guesswork arising from the written accounts. The philological analysis at least has a rigorous methodology behind it, then again I would say that as Paul Cavill is my tutor (though in my defence – and his! – we haven’t discussed Brunanburh and I can’t profess to have an opinion on its location).

  3. The ‘rigorous methodology’ is anything but. It ignores the many problems with various manuscripts, it ignores the mode of transmission of the place name to the OE poet, it wrongly assumes an omniscience on the part of early scribes who it presumes had a perfect OE vocabulary, knew the ‘correct’ derivation of the ‘Brun’ forms and got the spelling dead right, ignores the various reservations on ‘Brun’, ‘Burn’, ‘Brunnr’ and ‘Burna’ stated by the editors of the Vocabulary of English Place Name Elements and completely ignores the honest verdict of Dodgson, Campbell and others that philological evidence can never identify a location the name of which comprises such common elements – as Dodgson admitted; ‘…even if we could say with certainty that the medieval forms for Bromborough suggest a tenth-century form Brunanburh, we cannot say that this was the Brunanburh referred to in the ASC.’
    On a different note, it does not seem to have been considered that the OE poem, rather than a celebration of a great victory, can just as easily be read as a justification for a failed campaign. It seeks to deal with three aspects of the battle that argue against a decisive English victory. Firstly, the heavy losses in Athelstan’s army: it does this by contrasting the heroic and aggressive behaviour of the English with the passive behaviour of the coalition (see, for example, Jayne Carroll’s ‘Words and weapons’). Secondly, it deals with the fact that the coalition leaders escaped (possibly with significant elements of their armies) by emphasising their humiliation in flight, Causantin leaving his son on the field etc. Thirdly, it addresses the odd fact that Athelstan does not follow up his defeated enemies bu immediately returned to Wessex: again it does this by emphasising his ‘glorious’ return and contrasting this with the humiliating returns of Anlaf and Causantin to their lands.

    • Kevin, to be clear, when I refer to rigorous methodology I mean in terms of philology as a discipline; what other factors are considered and the way(s) in which this is done will vary of course. Having not read Cavill’s essay, I don’t really feel equipped to comment on its suggested shortcomings. I have been reading and enjoying your 2010 article – do you have an idea of where Simeon, Gaimer etc. obtained their alternative/supplementary toponymic and topographical information from?

      Also, I thought you would like to know that I may have a second instance of OE (ge)weorc and burh alternating in the 10th century which, like the later example of Aldebury/Newark, is from Surrey. It’s based upon this 1955 article from the British Numismatic Journal – – in which it’s concluded that coins bearing the same moneyer’s name but different minting places (abbreviated forms of “suthburh”, “suthweorc”) derive from the Southwark mint and not Sudbury in Suffolk. I haven’t checked to see if the subsequent 50+ years of scholarship still supports this article; as and when I do I aim to write something on it as it is a little-known but significant feature of the place-name that fits nicely with Southwark’s burghal status.

      • Robert, thanks for the information on the possible interchangeability of the burh and werce forms. I still stand by my 2010 conclusion which was based on examining 100s of ‘burh’ forms and not finding a single ‘werce’ variant – it goes without saying that there is no recorded ‘werce’ form for Bromborough.
        In all honesty it is not the advocacy of Bromborough that I object to but the manner in which the case is presented. KJ mentioned the Casebook and it is surely bizarre to deliberately exclude contributions from Michel Wood and others who disagree with the Bromborough identification.
        There are obvious problems with Bromborough that an honest account would acknowledge. Firstly, despite PC’s refusal to admit it the ‘burh’ form originates in a poem and has clear alliterative advantages. Any scientific approach would acknowledge this and also admit that the fact that only 40 years after the battle a member of the West Saxon royal family used a completely different form, Brunandune, gives pause for thought. Secondly, Bromborough does not plausibly account for (your new information notwithstanding) the ‘werce’ variant. Thirdly, the Welsh simplex forms, ‘Brun’, Brune’ point (as per the Vocabulary mentioned above) to most likely a river or possibly a hill but surely not a settlement? Fourthly, Bromborough does not easily fit with the ‘dune’ forms. Fifthly, so far as I am aware, the Wirral cannot plausibly explain the ‘wen’/’weon’ forms.
        Finally, as to the forms given in the Durham chronicles to which you refer I believe these most clearly fir Burnswark. However, and it is a big however, I do feel that it’s possible that some 200 years after the fact SoD incorrectly assumed that the ‘Brunanburh’ of the ASC was the hillfort at Burnswark. If this was so it would mean that the ‘werce’ variant and ‘we(o)n’ forms are errors and the only relevant forms are the Brun ‘burh’ and ‘dune’ variants.

  4. I am Andrew Breeze, and thank all those who have taken up the Lanchester suggestion.


  5. Wow, this post seems to have stirred more interest than any other, unsurprisingly. Thanks for all of the suggestions and leads.
    I am concerned that even if all of the philological and other evidence can be accounted for (as Livingston and Cavill, et. al. do in the Casebook), the answer might still be wrong. Unless, as Breeze’s article suggests, they dig up bones.
    Tim, I am looking forward to seeing your analysis of troop movements, etc. Livingston has an analysis in the Casebook that seems plausible, but I gather you have reservations about the northern forces crossing into and out of the Wirral. If you argue for something on the west coast just to the north of the Ribble, that would be fascinating.

    • Karen, Tim and I have long argued for a reappraisal of the value of philology in this instance. The Bromborough supporters in particular have elevated it to a science when it clearly isn’t. The very real problems with the manuscripts, modes of transmission and uncertainty about the ‘literacy’ of medieval scribes – a point considered in detail by New Testament scholars like Erhman but ignored by medievalists – mean that the ‘science’ is built on sand. A perusal of the volumes of the EPNS or the so-far published volumes of the Vocabulary reveal case after case where there are inconsistencies in the variant forms even where the identification is certain. In a case like Brunanburh where we don’t know the identity to pretend that a particular form or spelling can be determined as correct thus proving an element relates to an OE but not a river or a hill, or supports the first element of Bromborough but no other Brun, Brune or Brom place name anywhere in Britain is simply rubbish.

  6. I am quite excited about the latest suggestion of a battle location at Lanchester, given to us by Andrew Breeze. I also note with interest, the comments on interchangeability of –burh and werce (ge-weorc)forms, a subject which I acknowledge, has been well researched by Kevin Halloran.

    Most interpretations of Symeons Libellus De Exordio identify Et Brunnanwerc and Brunnanbyrig to be one and the same, yet in respect of a Lanchester location, we might now consider a possibility that there could have been two separate structures in very close proximity to each other. The generally accepted interpretation thus reads “…at Wendun which is called by another name Et Brunnanwerc or Brunnanbyrig…”.

    We could suppose that the Brunnanwerc or ‘water works’was the name given to the remains of the extensive Roman Aqueduct, over two miles in length which supplied fresh water to the fortification. It is here we might speculate that the first element Brunnan_ could originate from OE *brunna ‘spring or stream’ – this would then mean of course, that the ruin of Longovicium was the _burh in Brunnanbyrig or ‘the fort by the stream’. Too much to chew – I know! So let us look for another more plausible alternative.

    In the Vocabulary of English Place-Names Brace-Caester (David Parsons, Tania Styles) various non-military meanings for burh are discussed. In one of the examples Stenton is said to have observed in several instances where there appeared to be alternation between burh and monasterium or mynster. It is here where a monastery, particularly one with a wall, could be termed a burh.

    There is no existing evidence for the site of a monastery in Lanchester, however in ‘County Durham Volume 9’ (Nikolaus Pevsner & Elizabeth Williamson) the author comments “Other possible early minster sites are Sockburn, Chester-le-Street and perhaps Billingham. There may also have been one at or near Lanchester”.

    If we consider the size of the medieval parish, and its dependant chapelries, it would seem reasonable to assume that there existed a Pre-Conquest church at Lanchester. There is no clear evidence for this, however Steer (1936, 213) quotes Hodgson, an early 19thc historian as having seen a Roman road ‘in the brook opposite the church at Lanchester, and through the churchyard at more than three feet below the surface’. If this feature does exist then the location of the church alongside it, a half mile east of the fort of Longovicium, could indicate an early origin, possibly associated with a roadside cemetery or burial.

  7. Karen, you’re right about my having reservations on the idea of the northern kings bringing their armies to Bromborough. In fact, I simply can’t see how they could arrive there, or why they would even bother to make such a long journey. If their objective was to challenge Athelstan to a showdown, they had no need to waste energy and resources on a long march to the Wirral. They didn’t have to travel so far south to find English territory to ravage, whether they came via the western or eastern routes.

    The Lanchester theory presented by Andrew Breeze is interesting, as is the additional information given above by Mick Deakin, but I’m not convinced we should be seeking an eastern location for the battle. I’ve scratched my head many times over John of Worcester and simply don’t buy his idea of Anlaf’s Vikings sailing in via the Humber estuary. Also, while the eastern route into Northumbria via Lothian seems to have been the preferred option for Scottish armies in this and subsequent periods, a battle in County Durham or Yorkshire seems a poor fit with the Brunanburh poem. If we discard the poet’s description of the event as rhetorical, this problem goes away. If we retain the poem, we’re left with an image of defeated Dubliners fleeing to their ships and sailing home across the ‘noisy sea’ (if that’s what Dingesmere means). This surely suggests a location near the western coast. The Wirral would certainly fit, but it’s too far south for me, hence my current preference for a battle-site in North Lancashire, somewhere between the estuaries of Ribble and Lune.

    Kevin’s point about the need to reconsider our approach to place-name variants (including the different names for the battle) is worth highlighting. Which form of a place-name is the most accurate? In any case, the philological arguments for Bromborough or anywhere else won’t be enough to clinch an identification. All aspects of the campaign need to be included in the search and given equal significance: textual sources, place-names, logistics, military objectives, political geography and landscape archaeology. We should also acknowledge the strong possibility that the location of this famous battle might never be rediscovered.

    • As the evidence stands, Tim, I think your final sentence is probably accurate. I won’t repeat my observations on the limitations of philology as a basis for identifying Brunanburh except to say that in the past some very fine philologists have acknowledged and admitted those limitations and, I think, would be surprised and dismayed at the certainties expressed by some modern practitioners. In a sense Bromborough supporters have already won an important victory in the debate as they seem to have convinced many historians that place name evidence is the primary, indeed perhaps, the only evidence to be considered. Yet the so-called rigorous methodology they espouse can lead to logical absurdities. The identification of the phrase Dingesmere in the OE poem with Thingwall on the Wirral is a case in point. One reads the analysis with a growing sense of disbelief until finally the ‘great discovery’ hailed in the national media has the defeated Vikings sailing their ships over a marshland back to Dublin. I am afraid that the enthusiasm of the Bromborough advocates has clouded their judgement and objectivity. They have inverted the scientific method by commencing with the conclusion rather than the evidence. Bromborough is Brunanburh and therefore ‘valid’ evidence must support Bromborough and evidence that does not support it is ignored, dismissed or ‘reinterpreted’. An example is the reference is the Annals of Clonmacnoise to ‘the plaines of othlyn’ as the site of the battle. This document now exists only in a late English translation of an Irish original. This being so, Nick Higham’s suggestion that it was an OE phrase meaning ‘up to the river Lyne’ is very odd indeed and has been dismissed by experts on Gaelic. Yet it can support Bromborough if Lyne is read as the Cheshire Lyme. So how does Paul Cavill describe Higham’s questionable theory? He describes it as ‘brilliant’! And this is the rigorous and objective approach to place name evidence that the Casebook trumpets. It has all the validity of the phlogiston theory.

    • So, what kind of other evidence might narrow the candidates proposed by philological arguments? I can simplify Tim’s suggestion into two major areas:
      1. The reasons for each side to be in a particular place and how long it would take to get there, basically logistics and strategy: but that is dependent on the same textual sources everyone is arguing about the place names, with excuses about why one should be more right than another.
      2. Archaeological evidence for a major battle. So far, other than the suggestion by Andrew Breeze to start digging at Lanchester, I have not seen anyone mention battle graves or other such evidence at any of the proposed sites. Are there?

  8. Kevin, further to your research on the interchangeability of geweorc and burh. From my understanding of the work by Barbara Yorke, this interchangeability it seems did take place, but in reference to temporarary structures used strategically at the time of the conflict.

    Yorke observed that the ASC said liitle about the places recorded in the Burghal Hidage, yet records many other fortified places using terms like faesten, geweorc and sometimes byrig, all of which were used interchangeably (note here possibly Symeons use of -burh and weorc to describe the same feature?).

    There are reports of Anglo-Saxon geweorc at Nottingham, Athelney, Andredesweald and also in Devon. Viking geweorc at Chippenham,Buttington,Bridgenorth and Rochester (also referred to as a faesten). A Viking geweorcum on the River Lea (also referred to as a byrig) and of course London (byrig).

    • To this, I’d add merely (and without much weight to any side of the Brunanburh debate) that John Blair’s recent Ford Lectures in Oxford, shortly to be published by Princeton, put much emphasis on linked settlements, in his case most especially places called Burton, many of which appear in easily visible connexion with burh sites for which they seem to be outposts. This makes me think that the weorc and the burh of a given site with two might well not necessarily be exactly the same spot. I would, however, check in with a numismatist or two over the Sudbury/Southwark question; much of Dolley’s work has been re-evaluated since his death some time ago.

  9. […] Jolly’s blogpost on Brunanburh (with […]

  10. […] week, I got involved in a vigorous discussion on Karen Jolly’s Revealing Words blog about the site of the 937 battle of Brunanburh, one of those places of pivotal significance […]

  11. Just a quick note here to object to your characterization of the Casebook as “phlogiston theory.” The true value of the volume (at least in my intention) is in providing the raw material for all researchers to make their own conclusions about the battle. The sources are the point. Yes, three of the individual essays advance the Bromborough identification, but that is an issue independent from the usefulness of those primary texts.

    As for why the Bromborough essays and not others … the primary reason is there was at the time little new to say on those cases. Breeze’s Lancaster theory was (and is) unpublished; Michael Wood still hadn’t put out his latest Humber rendition (having now wisely abandoned his first theory); and the great defense of Lancashire — which I’ve long considered one of the best alternative theories — has yet to be formulated (though I’ve a great many notes on the subject!). Regardless, even if I am personally of the mind that Bromborough is our best current fit for the evidence, I think you’ll find that I tried to cast a wider net than mere philological (or even phlogistical) in my discussions.

    • Hi Michael. Thanks for chiming in. I gather your objection is to Kevin Halloran’s characterization, not mine.
      I do find the Casebook’s assemblage of primary sources in original languages and translation invaluable, and Cavill’s essay particularly useful for surveying the parameters of the various arguments.
      It does appear, though, that Bromborough has not yet won the day any more than Athelstan.
      Personally, I would love there to be some archaeological evidence to play with.
      I am also looking forward to Tim Clarkson’s analysis of your essay’s cogent points about troop movements and logistics in the Wirral compared to other sites (he presently favors something north of the Ribble).

      • Quite right – I’m objecting to Kevin’s unfortunate attack, not your very even-handed positioning. Thread failure on my part.

        I’ll look forward to Tim’s observations, too. As I’ve repeatedly said in reply to the hate mail I get on the matter, I really have no dog in this fight. Bromborough had the best case at the time of publication (and I think it still does), but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to credible alternatives. And the best option outside of the Wirral (in my opinion) certainly remains Lancashire.

        As for archaeology, it would be nice. There’s a new pro-Wirral book coming out next year that supposedly marks some advances in this regard. I’ve not seen it, but I’ve been asked to write a foreword for it. To be fair, though, even if we found a perfect fortification in Bromborough — along with battle pits with tenth-century coins and a mix of English and Norse bones — it still wouldn’t 100% prove that this was the battle site … any more than then same find at Lancaster or elsewhere would 100% prove that site’s identity. There is always room for doubt, and never more so than when the sides in the debate have wrapped their social or academic identity around a pet theory.

        That said, I’m quite hopeful that the Casebook will spur work on a solid alternative theory that might merit a second edition. Despite my publication date, the book on Brunanburh is hardly closed!

  12. […] recent posts and comments at Tim Clarkson’s Senchus and Karen Louise Jolly’s Revealing Words have instigated a discussion on the location of the battle of Brunanburh, which was celebrated in […]

  13. […] 937, the Battle of Brunnanburh was fought…somewhere.  The HSC makes no mention of this battle, leading me to suspect that […]

  14. […] what if Aldred read Boethius as a young man of 19, amid the upheavals created by the Battle of Brunanburh?  I could place him at Heysham, where he finds a copy of the Old English version and begins to […]

  15. Brougham , without a doubt , not too far south not to far north , not too far east and right on the main Roman road , still called Broom today , still the remains of a Burgh , right next to (Vinheath Wendune) Whinfell , right near the treaty of Eamont , right on a traditional border not that far over sea and over land from Ireland , right near undulating hills with woods.I havnt got time to look for war graves or arrow clusters at the moment as still trying to ultimately prove Arthurs battles on Cross fell (Mons Badonicus) and Celidon Caer Ochren (Gelt , Castle Carrock).

  16. Brougham near Penrith, would put it closer to Carlisle and Dacre, both places where Aldred might have been at this time. Where would the Irish Norse have landed and left–Derwentmouth, Ravenglass, or Morecambe?

  17. Most Viking ships of the time had a very shallow draft and could navigate many even smaller rivers , Carlisle on the Eden is my firm choice for a landing place.or any other more estuarine river mouth like Maryport , Workington etc (I even thought of Keswick).The poem does seem to suggest shallow waters but possibly tidal which makes one think of Morecambe bay which is the least consolable aspect of a more Inland battle like at Brougham as its quite far , however dont forget Stamford Bridge as a prime example (48 miles overland to Bridlington), these warriors traveled , and fast even on foot.The Seamen was probably harried all day back to their haven , night and fresh reserves guarding the boats may have been the only thing that saved the remnants.

    • The OE poem may be an accurate and literal account of Brunanburh but it may equally use a foreshortened timescale for dramatic and propaganda reasons. Anlaf’s flight and hair’s breadth escape are not mentioned in other (admittedly later) accounts. Other commentators have pointed out that the timescale in the poem at lines 11-16 cannot easily be reconciled to that at lines 19-22. The Annals of Clonmacnoise state 800 captains died around Anlaf and is more suggestive of an attritional fight than a flight. The Annals of Ulster, Aethelweard, Pseudo-Ingulf, Egil’s Saga and the Latin poem in William of Malmesbury all suggest a long and bloody struggle and none mention a flight to the sea. And, of course, the OE poet was wrong when he stated that Anlaf fled back to Dublin as his arrival there is noted several months after the battle.

      • Very Interesting K .

      • You have to understand that the medieval view of a battle is not necessarily the modern one. To a medieval commentator the outcome of a battle is a Divine judgement and a ‘great victory’ is a vindication of the moral and spiritual superiority of a kingdom or people. How is this superiority demonstrated? Most obviously by tangible signs such as the conquest of a territory or the death or submission of an enemy leader. But at Brunanburh the enemy leaders are not killed and, so far as we know, they do not submit or pay tribute or give hostages to Athelstan. They go back to their own lands. Does Athelstan then go on to conquer those enemy kingdoms? He does not but rather he too simply returns to his own lands. So how can such a battle be presented as a ‘great victory’? What are the tangible signs? The signs are in the ‘behaviour’ of the opposing armies. True, admits the poet, the enemy escaped and we all went home BUT they only JUST escaped and they fled without honour. This is how a Pyrrhic victory can be presented as a great national triumph. Treat the poem with caution: it is ultimately propaganda.

  18. Taking on board Kevins point of Anlaf arriving back in Dublin several months after the battle. We maybe ought to consider a near east coast location for the battle. Anything down the west side of the country and you would think that his journey back over the Irish Sea would be a matter of days.

    Taking this a stage further and assuming that Anlaf sailed west to east around the coast of Scotland to get to the battle site. Then he would be taking advantage of favourable winds at that time of the year.

    The return journey east to west around the coast of Scotland after the battle, would not find him using favourable winds as they would be invariably against him. this might explain why it took so long to get back to Dublin ?

    • Anlaf couldve simply hung around Carlisle for a bit,
      perhaps wounded.

  19. ENE from York , WNW from York , N from Chester ? the March route , bear in mind Men from Wessex Mercia and Northumberland. Marching from York through the Stainmore , or coming up through Lancashire ? Bear in mind Athelstan would have collected some impressive English forces along the way.

  20. Glad to see this discussion continuing, although my interest remains in what someone in the region at the time might experience–in particular, how a Northumbrian would perceive this battle.
    In part, my work on Aldred and Chester-le-Street has been concerned with giving a Northumbrian view of a tenth-century history usually written from a Wessex-centered view. So I am with you, Kevin, on the propaganda aspects of the poem.
    My sense is that Aldred’s loyalties in this era were conflicted–he may have sympathies for the northern alliance, but be wary of taking sides, particularly with viking forces involved. On the other hand, his connection to Chester-le-Street after c. 950 would be a move to a Wessex-supporting institution, at that time. But in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, even the community of St. Cuthbert at Chester-le-Street played different sides, promoting a viking king of Northumbria for example (Guthred).
    I am still struck by the absence of any mention of the Battle of Brunanburh in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto and what that silence might mean.

  21. […] which I neglected to visit last summer despite the urgings of Dan Elsworth, has tenth century artifacts and a prominent site on a headland (see also this blogspot on Cumbrian […]

  22. […] points made in Michael Livingston’s Casebook introduction seem worth pursuing (pp. 14-19), even though I am going with the minority […]

  23. Any plausibility to the area just west of Bradwell in Derbyshire? The hilltop next to Dunge Wood has an interesting geography when viewed on a satellite picture.

  24. Sorry, that should be east of Bradwell.

  25. I was in that area last summer, but I don’t think anyone has made a case for this area of Derbyshire (although I seem to recall Brough coming up once). Most of the discussion varies between linguistic and logistics.

  26. Worth a read if you haven’t seen it before. Not all of it is legible though I’m afraid.

    Click to access 1929_BNJ_20_3.pdf

    • I am nearing the end of Sarah Foot’s excellent biography of Athelstan. She has a nicely detailed explanation of the king’s movements, his mints, and the Brunanburh controversy.

  27. Thank you, I’ll try and find a copy. Although I’ve always been aware of the outline of our Anglo Saxon history, it’s only recently become a full blown ‘passion’. I’m astounded that more hasn’t been done to fully locate the Brunanburh site. Hope springs eternal though.

  28. Interesting to note that nobody has mentioned Burnley and surrounding areas in this discussion

    • According to The Battle of Brunanburh Casebook: Burnley is one of the Victorian candidates for the site, many of which were advanced out of local pride and/or based on philology now disputed (Parker, p. 401), but apparently is now very popular on the web (Cavill, p. 331), who seems to argue against the philological construction of Bruna to Burnley. Livingston, p. 18n53 notes the possibility of a 937 battle near Burnley.

  29. Its nice to see Brunanburh still exciting debate – here’s my two penneth after a recent cartographic discovery


    damo bullen

  30. & here’s the plains of othlynn solution –

  31. […] wrote so expertly on the Battle of Brunanburh in the Casebook edited by Michael Livingston and that stirred up so much “interest” on my blog.  Apparently he also has a forthcoming book on the battle which should prove to be equally […]

  32. Heres where Analf escaped into the Irish Sea after the battle

  33. The Battle of Brunanburh could have been fought at any of the sites mentioned,but i think more than likely at a place more remote than some mentioned. The reasoning is that Battle sites always remembered by the local population and the word handed down from generation to generation .Dunmail battle of keswick recorded, Dowgill Stainmore; Battle between picts and the Angles recorded. Rayseat near Ravenstonedale Battle between the Bruce and English recorded.Surely if such a large Battle had been fought at the Wirral some evidence would have turned up. At Aidensfield near the Roman wall many bodies and weapons ploughed up,

  34. Interesting argument for a remote place falling out of local memory, one I don’t recall hearing before. However, I am sure the more archaeologically minded will say that even the more populated locations have not been so fully excavated that the absence of evidence is grounds to reject their candidacy.

    • I have a map that I had copied from the Lancashire Record Office of the Village where GGG Grandad was born who’s Baptism I can’t find where a place on the map is ‘Brunbaldeston’ & coincidentally my Dad’s Grave has 937 on the back of the headstone… I have misplaced the map but likely to visit the Record Office soon…

      • just found the map… the place is ‘Brunbaldestones Tenement’

  35. I’m really interested in where this battle actually took place. The debate will go on. I think it took place somewhere in the Scottish borders. But I’m still interested in the debate and be possibly wrong.

  36. Hi Karen, I am really interested in your blog and I was wondering if you can give me some information on the battle mainly a possible reference to troop quantities or roughly as I have estimates from 150,000 on the battlefield to 30,000. can you contact me at

    I can also say that further information has come to light over the possible location of the battle to be at Hunwick, in County Durham. I am really keen to explore this new information and with possible building of a model of the battle in that location.

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