Posted by: kljolly | December 15, 2014


952 has to be the worst year to try and figure out what is happening in Northumbria.

We know some kind of major raid or battle took place involving Scots, Britons (Cumbrians?), and English (Northumbrians?  Southumbrians?) against “foreigners” (as the Annals of Ulster put it), presumably some variety of vikings (York-based?).

Then StrathclydeClarksonthere are the names:  which Erik, is there more than one, not to mention the  Olafs (Anlaf).  And what role did the Wessex King Eadred play?  Where did the battle take place, that the alliance lost and the viking foreigners won?

I was pulling my hair out as I perused the secondary sources that have tried to disentangle this mess. Then I got Tim Clarkson’s latest, Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age. There on pp. 113-16 I found a succinct run down of the possible scenarios for 952.

So Tim, this summary from the vantage point of Aldred at Chester-le-Street, writing mid-winter 952-53, is for you to judge how well I capture the chaos:

To the south at York, one viking drove out another, Erik Bloodaxe Haraldson replacing Anlaf (Cuaran) Sigtryggsson, whose brief tenure in York had apparently been acceptable to the Wessex King Eadred but less so to the other factions competing for control in Northumbria. It was Olaf’s uncontrolled followers who had ravaged Crayke when Aldred was priest there two years ago, causing him to flee to Chester-le-Street, only to meet the opposing forces from the north, Malcolm King of Scots raiding Northumbria as far as the River Tees (949-950). Now two years later, the fickle York Anglo-Danes had accepted Erik over Anlaf, which undoubtedly annoyed Wessex King Eadred enough to intervene in Northumbria, yet again. Word had it that he had taken Archbishop Wulfstan of York captive for his part in the overthrow. Meanwhile, a coalition of Scots King Malcolm, Strathclyde King Dyfnwal, and Oswulf lord of Bamburgh came south to oppose Erik for control of Northumbria. The armies met head on just north of Chester-le-Street, so the victorious York viking forces pillaged their region both coming and going on the main road on which their community was strategically located.
All this turmoil left Chester-le-Street, grateful recipients of Wessex royal largesse, an island amidst factions warring for control of Northumbria, with a viking king at York, the Scots and Cumbrians trying to ward off further incursions from overseas and local vikings, and the English West Saxons prepared to make Northumbria their own, if they could first get past a viking-controlled York.

The last bit here hints at events in 954, but Aldred is no prophet seeing the future, so I will have to catch him up later.  For now, I am just trying to get the story straight in my head, and edit this later to make it more novelistic.


  1. Thank you Karen for citing my new book. Your proposed scenario for 952 looks as plausible as any, given the range of possibilities and permutations. The relationship between Bamburgh and York around the time of the battle is always going to be a matter of debate but I’ve always liked the idea of Oswulf leading the English contingent. Placing the battlefield north of Chester-le-Street works well for your narrative and adds to the perilous situation of the monks. It also seems a likely enough location if the English forces did indeed come from Bamburgh rather than from the south. All of which leaves Aldred and his colleagues facing a period of anxiety and uncertainty as they wait for the various powers to realign.

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