The following article is an attempt by the Rev. Thomas Cruddas Porteus, a man of the cloth, hymnwriter and antiquary of the early 20th century, perhaps best known for his work on the Mayflower pilgrim Myles Standish, as well as other works of local and ecclesiastical history, to home in on the "correct" location of the famous battle of Brunanburh in c.937.
The article was serialised in the Blackburn Times between the 25th June & the 6th August 1927, and is held at Blackburn Central Library, in the local history section (reference: C121).
Brunanburh and Blackburn
The Story of the Greatest of Battles
New Light on the History of Blackburn and Darwen
By the Rev. T. C. PORTEUS, M.A., B.D. (Vicar of St. John the Divine, Coppull)
One of the most widespread tales among the legends of the Northmen is the story of the Everlasting Fight. The prose Edda relates that by the witchcraft of Hild, who went by night to the battlestead, those who had fallen during the day revived, and joined anew in the clash of arms on the morrow, so that the struggle was continuous. There is a sense in which Brunanburh, the great victory of Alfred's grandson over his foes, is the Everlasting Fight.
So many races of men were in it that a wide and enduring fame was won. Not only in the English chronicles is Athelstan's heroic fight mentioned; but in the Welsh and Irish and Pictish records. Because vikings fought there, the Saga of Egil takes up the story. Everywhere there is the same impression, the number and rank of the slain, the wonder of the Saxon triumph. Henry of Huntingdon calls it the greatest of battles. William of Malmesbury has found an old book of ballads, concerning the contest and its hero, and gloats over his discovery. Gaimar sings:
At Brunanburh (Bruneswerce) he had the better
Of the Scots, the men of Cumberland,
The Welsh and the Picts.
There so many were killed
I think it will ever be spoken of.
Gaimar is right; it will ever be spoken of. And not only because of the magnitude of the struggle, but because of the Song that it inspired. In 937 the Saxon Chronicle becomes lyrical and tells us the news in verse, throwing a Homeric gleam, as Dr. Hodgkin puts it, over the scanty annals of this period. The Song of Brunanburh comes hot from the anvil of some song-smith who perhaps recited it on the field, or amid the rejoicings after the battle. Not only is it a curiosity of our language and literature, but a masterly song, worthy of a permanent place among patriotic poems. It is masterly in the amount of knowledge that it imparts, with a light touch, in vivid word-pictures; and masterly in its restraint, in its praise, but not extravagant praise, for the King, his brother, and his West Saxon and Mercian soldiers. The same artistic restraint is discernible in the song's exultation over the defeated, tempered by a passing note of sorrow for the fallen. Tennyson's translation has made its strains familiar:
Five young Kings put asleep by the sword-stroke,
Seven strong Earls of the army of Anlaf
Fell on the war-field, numberless numbers,
Shipmen and Scotsmen.
Another reason for the everlastingness of the fight at Brunanburh; why Anlaf rises from the dead, and Constantine leads his men over the gory heath, and Aethelstan bears on his standard, in the memory and imagination of men, is that the secret of the site is lost. Like the grave of Moses, the battlefield is unknown. Brunanburh, whatever it was, wherever it is, lies buried more deeply than Troy in the sands of oblivion. One might think this would lessen interest in the battle; on the contrary, interest is enhanced. Men love a mystery, and the unknown fascinates. Many have sought for the site; more than one has cried "Eureka !" Hence a dozen alleged Brunanburhs have arisen, dotted here and there over the land. One curious illustration of the fascination of Brunanburh is that on a new historical map by Professor Ramsay Muir the name of the battle appears in no fewer than three different places, accompanied in each case by a question mark. One site is in Dumfries; one in Cumberland; one in Lincolnshire!
In spite of a statement by Florence of Worcester that Anlaf's ships entered the Humber, there is general agreement that the battle was west of the Pennines. The site in Dumfries, namely, Burnswork or Burnswark, may be said to hold the field, in that it commands the assent of the majority of scholars specially interested in the question. The present writer, however, feels that the Burnswork theory of the site is very insecurely based, and he will advance reasons for thinking that it is no longer tenable. The view he will put forward is that Brunanburh is Blackburn, but that the actual fight began at Darwen. Bolton also comes into the story, as the headquarters of King Athelstan. These suggestions are not guesswork. They are based upon a fresh study of the place-names in the chronicles and records. A valuable part of the new case consists of the discovery of a place-name, Winshead or Wenshead, at Darwen. This corresponds with the Wendune given by Symeon of Durham as the place of the fight, and agrees with the names Winshaed and Winheath found in Egil's Saga. Moreover, for the first time, the suggestive topographical references to the battle in this saga will be related to a Lancashire site. It will be found that these local data harmonise well with the positions of Darwen, Blackburn and Bolton.
If these contentions are accepted, then some useful light will be thrown on the country between Ribble and Mersey during the tenth century. Historical references are scanty at this period; little is known about this district, and every little bit of evidence, if well-based, is valuable. Moreover, if Blackburn is Brunanburh, one discovery will lead to another. The founding of Brunanburh, of Brunesburh, as Henry of Huntingdon calls it, appears to be mentioned in various chronicles. It will transpire that the Lady Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, was the founder of Blackburn town and church.
The discovery of a great hoard of coins at Cuerdale in 1843 first directed men's minds to the country south of the Ribble, as a district suiting well the ethnology and military strategy of the battle of Brunanburh. The hoard included coins minted about 905 A.D., and none later than 930 A.D. Mr. C. Hardwick suggested that the silver treasure was the war-chest of Athelstan's enemies. Following his lead, Mr. T. Wilkinson and Mr. J. T. Marquis, in turn, advocated the likelihood of Burnley as the site. These antiquarians were "warm," as children say in playing hide-and-seek, but they failed to recognise the features of Saxon Brunanburh under the mask of familiar Blackburn. The hoard of coins is most probably connected with the campaign, and will be discussed in a later contribution.
To understand the case now put forward it will be necessary, first, to rehearse briefly the story of the battle as it appears in an Icelandic saga. Egil son of Skallagrim was a viking, who, together with his brother Thorolf and their men, fought at the great conflict in the service of the English king. The saga of Egil is the story of an Icelandic family and family feud in the 9th and 10th century. Egil son of Skallagrim is the hero, and the tale is told of him in the third person. Its author is unknown; but he had Egil's poems, oral tradition, and other sources partly written to work upon. There is a collection of various manuscripts of the story in the library of the University of Copenhagen. The earliest of these, a fragment, dates back to 1200; but the codex considered to be the best text belongs to the 14th century. Nevertheless, the tale is based, as stated, on contemporary sources. Can it be trusted? Thordarson says "The saga agrees well with other Icelandic sagas, and may be reckoned as one of the most truthful; but when it is considered that it was kept in men's memory for a very long time - the events happening before the year 1000, and the story not being put into writing till near the end of the 12th century - naturally every syllable of it will not be true. Neither in this, however, nor in any of the best Icelandic sagas do the writers thereof deliberately assert untruth or mean to exaggerate."
With this judgment most readers will concur, and it should be added that the writer (or his sources) displays a real knowledge of England; London, York, the Humber, are mentioned. In the matters about which we propose to accept his evidence, he had no temptation to falsify. Even if his account of Egil's bravery is somewhat exaggerated, we cannot think that the place-names which he mentions in the vicinity of the battle are invested or distorted. There is no motive for invention, neither in these names, nor in his references to wood, stream, hill, and fortified towns. His general agreement with Symeon of Durham's "Wendune," and the Saxon Chronicle's "near Brunanburh" are undesigned coincidences which help to establish his veracity.
Egil son of Skallagrim was, according to the saga, a viking of great stature, strength and skill: a gallant soldier and a ready bard, able to turn out "staves" on the spur of the moment. After the style of such "kennings" these verses were more ingenious than profound. Different parts of speech were mixed up in a muddle like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle; and it takes more skill, surely, to read them and understand them than went to their composition. To keep the rules of alliterative sound, those of grammatical sense were discarded. Rev. W. C. Green has illustrated this point by inverting the order of words in Scott's opening couplet of the "Lady of the Lake" to make it resemble the stave of an Icelandic skald:
At eve had drunk where danced his fill,
The stag the moon on Monan's rill.
In such verses, therefore, the order of words must be discovered, before the thought can be interpreted. However, the staves interspersed in the saga of Egil have not much to do with our argument, which depends mainly on the prose story. The saga tells us the faults of Egil, as well as the tale of his feats; this again is evidence of its general veracity. There was an unpleasing side to Egil's character. He was often merciless, quick to strike and to slay. He was greedy, too, and cunning. Yet there is a nobler side to the man; he is truthful and hates meanness, is chivalrous to women, and loyal to his friends. The saga gives us his portrait at the height of his fame, describes his great jaw and thick neck and big shoulders; he was tall, with wolf-grey hair, black-eyed, brown-skinned, hard-featured, grim when angry. Such a man, we feel, would make an uneasy friend and a deadly foe; though "prime-signed" he remained a Pagan at heart. Into the tale of his wanderings, or the course of his feud with King Eric we need not enter. It will suffice to abstract from the saga his adventures in the service of King Athelstan.
The identity of Brunanburh and the battle of Winhead described in the saga has been conclusively argued by the advocates of the Burnswork theory, Dr. Neilson and Mr. R. B. Bremner; and will therefore be accepted as established.
The story must be prefaced by a note on the Olaf, King of Scots, who, according to the saga, was Athelstan's chief adversary in the battle. The Olaf intended is no doubt the son of Sitric; this Olaf was claimant to the throne of Northumbria. His father-in-law, Constantine, was King of Scotland, and was also in the confederacy opposed to Athelstan. There was also another Olaf in the battle, perhaps more than one other, but the Olaf whom the English chroniclers call Anlaf, was Norse King of Ireland, and Ireland was the original home of the Scots. By the Olaf of the saga we must understand the acting leader of the confederacy, whoever it was. The saga says that Olaf was killed in the fight, but this cannot be true of either of the Olafs just mentioned. Many English chroniclers say that Constantine was killed; this also is an error.
Thorkelin's edition of Egil's Saga in Icelandic and Latin (1809) was chiefly used in this abstract; Jonsson's two editions have also been consulted, and the English version by Rev. W. C. Green. The events of the Saga are probably not told in strict chronological order, but we supply, from English chronicles, A.D. 937 as the date of the fight.
Athelstan the Victorious ruled England, following Edward his father, and Alfred the Mighty, his grandsire. His realm embraced Britons, Scots and Irish (perhaps the Irish Danes who had settled in England), and he had several brothers. Chiefs who had lost their power to his forefathers rose against him and he hired soldiers to form a great army. Thorold and Egil, cruising along by Saxony and Flanders, heard that the pay was good and joined Athelstan, being first marked with the sign of the cross at the King's desire; 300 men with them took the King's pay. Olaf the Red, half Scot, half Dane, ruled Scotland, reckoned a third of England. Northumbria, reckoned a fifth of England, was formerly held by Danish Kings. York was its capital; now Athelstan ruled there and set over it two earls, Alfgeir and Gudrek, to guard it against Scots, Danes and Norse. Bretland (Cumbria) was ruled by two brothers, Hring and Adils (probably Edwal or Idwal, prince of North Wales), tributaries to King Athelstan. Some who had been kings or princes, and reduced to the rank of earls by Alfred, now rebelled against Athelstan.
Prelude to the Battle.
Olaf gathered a vast host and marched on England. The earls of Northumbria met him in a great battle but were defeated. Gudrek fell and Alfgeir fled. Olaf thereupon subdued all Northumbria; Alfgeir reported the disaster to King Athelstan. Meanwhile, seeing Olaf victorious, many nobles joined him, and Hring and Adils with their army went over to his side. Athelstan marched against Olaf; but when they saw themselves outnumbered, his captains, summoned in council, advised him to move southward and collect a larger force. He did so, having Alfgeir in command of the Northumbrian troops, and Thorolf and Egil at the head of another division (including their vikings), and appointing other captains of companies.
In Athelstan's absence his officers took steps to gain time. They sent messengers to King Olaf stating that Athelstan challenged him to a pitched battle in a week's time at Winheath (or Winhead) by Win-wood. Meanwhile, the King would have the invaders forbear to harry his land. For the custom was that when a king had enhazelled a field (fenced it by mutual agreement with hazel rods) it was a shameful act to harry before that fight was over. King Olaf consented and ceased to harry. He waited for the day, and led his army towards Win-heath (this we interpret to mean Winshead, Darwen Hill).
North of the heath stood a borg (this we take to mean a fortified town and identify with Blackburn). Olaf quartered there with the greater part of his force, for there was a wide district around whence provisions might be procured for his army. Some of his men he sent up to the heath where the battle was to be, to make ready the tent-ground before the army arrived. They found the site already marked out by hazel rods. A battle place should be chosen level and one whereon a large host might be set in array. Such was this. The heath was level where the battle was to be, a stream ran by on one side of it, on the other there was a wood. Now where the distance was least between the wood and the stream (though this was a good long stretch) King Athelstan's men had pitched, and their tents quite filled the space between wood and stream. Of every three tents which they had pitched one was empty; another had but few men. Yet when Olaf's men came (to fraternise?) they had numbers crowding in front of the tents and the others could not get in. Athelstan's men sad the tents were full and here was not enough room. The front tents stood on high ground and one could not see over them whether there were many or few in depth. Olaf's men thought that a great army was there, and they pitched north of the hazel poles, on which side there was a slight slope.
From day to day the English said that their King was about to come, or had come, to the borg which lay south of the heath (this fortified place we identify with Bolton-le-Moors). There forces flocked by day and night.
At last, when the agreed waiting-time had expired, Athelstan's counsellors sent envoys to King Olaf saying, "King Athelstan is ready for battle and has here a great host, but to avoid bloodshed he bids Olaf go home to Scotland. Athelstan will yield him a friendly gift of a silver shilling for every plough in his realm."
When the envoys came Olaf was just getting ready his army for the attack, but he called a council to consider the offer. Some captains said they would take the terms, for if they got so much money from Athelstan, their invasion had gained them great fame. The prevailing advice, however, was that if this were refused Athelstan would offer more. The envoys asked three day truce to try for a larger payment, one day to return to Athelstan, another for deliberation, a third to journey back to Olaf. He granted this request. On the third day they came and repeated the former offer, with the addition of a shilling for each freeborn man among the soldiers of Olaf, a silver mark to every leader of 12 or more, a gold mark to every captain of the king's guard, and five gold marks to every earl. Olaf took counsel and said that he would accept if Athelstan would cede to him all Northumbria with the scot and dues. Another three days' delay was asked for, and it was agreed that Olaf should send his own envoys to hear Athelstan's answer.
The envoys rode together; but meanwhile Athelstan had really arrived in the borg (we suggest Bolton) near to the heath on the south. He heard Olaf's envoys; he also learnt the methods adopted to delay the conflict. He decided quickly and bade the envoys go back at once with the message, "I will give Olaf leave to go home to Scotland, but only on condition that he restores what he has wrongfully taken in this land. Peace shall be made with no harrying on either side; Olaf shall hold Scotland for me and be my under-king." The envoys went back the same evening and reached Olaf at midnight. They awakened him and the council was called again. The envoys recounted Athelstan's firm words, and said that he had only just arrived in the borg and now had there a great force. All declared for battle.
Earl Adils called the English "tricksters"; they themselves had been duped, as he had warned them. However, let him and his brother make a night attack. Those on the heath might perhaps relax precautions seeing that their King had now arrived in the borg on the south with a large host. They might be taken unawares, and a preliminary disaster would make them less bold for the coming encounter.
In the first day's fighting on the heath the rival kings are not mentioned. Possibly because the three days' additional truce had not expired. The brother earls, Hring and Adils, advanced in the night southwards towards the heath. In the dawn of day Thorold's sentries stood to arms. There were two divisions on the English side. Earl Alfgeir commanded one, which was much the larger of the two; it included his own followers and the force gathered from the countryside. Thorolf and Egil led the smaller force. Thorold had shield and helm, his sword called Long, and a remarkable halberd or mail-piercer, with blade, spike, hook and stout shaft. Egil had his sword called Adder. Neither wore coat-of-mail. Thorfid the strong bore the standard of the Norse, who were drawn up near the wood, while Alfgeir's band was next the stream. Adils opposed Alfgeir, who gave ground and ere long fled. He rode away south over the heath, until he and his men came near the borg where Althelstan was quartered. The earl did not relish the notion of bearing bad news a second time. He had got a sharp reproof before when he told of Olaf's first victory. "No need to expect honour where he is," he said of Athelstan.
So he rode southwards, and of his travel it is to be told that he rode day and night till he and his came westwards to Earls Ness. (We suggest for this port, Ness in Wirral, where the Earls of Mercia had much territory). Then the earl got a ship to take him southwards over the sea and came to Valland (Normandy), where half his kin were. He never returned to England.
The other leader, Thorolf, brother of Egil, had more success. He slew Earl Hring and impaled him on his mighty halberd, the shaft of which he stuck in the ground. Many Britons (Welshmen) and Scots fell or fled. Darkness descended. The Vikings returned to their tents on the heath. Just then Athelstan arrived with the main army; soon Olaf arrived also with his army. Both learnt what had happened. The English King had heard a rumour of the fighting. He thanked the Vikings for their help. Both armies encamped for the night.
Second Day: The Great Fight.
The next day was the battle proper the truce by this time having fully expired. Egil was, against his wish, and with much foreboding, separated from his brother, for while Thorolf had charge of one division on the higher (or inland) ground beside the wood, Egil was chosen by King Athelstan to command the smartest companies in the royal division, which division stood on the level ground adjacent to the stream.
Thorolf was the victim of an ambush in the wood on his right, for when he pressed forward in advance of his troops, Earl Adils and his company leapt from the wood and thrust at him with many halberds so that he fell. Egil avenged him and slew Adils, attacking with great fury his followers. They fled, and left exposed the flank of Olaf's force. Egil's men then broke up Olaf's division and raised a shout of triumph. Athelstan pressed on the attack and gained a signal victory. Athelstan went "back to the borg," but Egil pursued the flying foe, following them far and slaying without mercy. Sated with pursuit, the Vikings returned at least to the heath, and Egil found the body of Thorolf. They made a "mickle howe" and laid the dead hero there in his weapons and war-clothes. Egil clasped a gold bracelet on either wrist of his brother; then they heaped stones and cast in mould. Then Egil sang a stave telling of Thorold's prowess and how "near to the Win" the grass would still grow green o'er his noble brother, while they a sorrow worse than death must bear. He sang, too, of his own feats, how the western field (vestan vang) was heaped with slain around his standard. Adils had fallen before his blue Adder amid the snow of war; young Olaf encountered England in the battle-storm and Hring was made food for ravens. The most vivid and poignant picture is that of Egil in the king's hall that same night, when at Athelstan's "drinking" he was silent and solitary, brooding over his sorrow, until his reason was almost clouded, overwrought by the mingled events of the crowded day.
After the Battle.
Egil and his men went before the King where he sat at the drinking. There was much noise of mirth. When Athelstan saw that Egil had entered he bade the lower bench be cleared for them, that Egil should sit in the high-seat opposite the king. Egil sat there, and cast his shield before his feet, his helm still on his head, his sword across his knees. Now and then he half drew it, and then clashed it back into the sheath, as he sat upright with his head bent forward.
The Saga describes the grim, gigantic figure, with great jaws and broad shoulders, his wolf-grey hair, tanned skin, black eyes and large brows. Now as he sat he grasped those same brows, drawing one down and the other up in his grief. He would not drink, though they offered him the horn.
King Athelstan sat in the upper high-seat. He also laid his sword across his knees. They sat there for a time in mute sympathy. Then the King drew his sword and placed upon its point a gold ring, large and fine, from his own arm. He went across the floor, and reached it over the fire to Egil. Egil stood, drew sword, and crossed the floor; struck the sword-point so as to catch the ring on his own sword, drew it to him, and returned to his seat. Athelstan sat down again on his high-seat. Presently Egil drew the ring on his arm, smoothed his eyebrows, and laid down weapon and helm. He drank from the horn they bare him, and in an impromptu stave praised the Saxon King and his gift. Presently the King called for two chests full of silver. It took two men to carry each of them. Athelstan bade Egil take them to his father in Iceland, as "payment for a son," except what Egil cared to give to other kinsfolk. To Egil himself the King offered land or chattels for services past, and further honour if he would remain in the royal service. Later Egil made a song concerning King Athelstan, and received as poet's meed two other gold rings, each weighing a mark, and a costly cloak which the King himself had worn. He stayed in England that year, but in the summer following sailed to Norway with a hundred followers. He and the King parted with great friendship, and Egil promised to return as soon as he could.
This (except for the bracketed notes) is a condensed account of chapters 50 to 55 of Egil's Saga. In a further contribution we hope to examine the theory of the site which is very generally accepted, and which places the battle at Burnswork in County Dumfries. It will be shown that Burnswork does not suit the references in the chronicles or in the Saga, and that Darwen and Blackburn agree with them much better.
The Accepted Site Examined.
Leslie Stephen wrote from Lyme Regis, in 1901, to his friend Norton: --
"If J. R. Green were here he would find historical associations with Monmouth, Cromwell and Athelstan; the Battle of Brunanburgh, I am told, was not far off. But as I don't care . . . . . . for the Battle of Brunanburgh, and don't historically associate, this is rather thrown away upon me."
Fortunately, or unfortunately, some do care, as the map with the three sites, already mentioned, testifies. Perhaps some have heard so much about the matter that they do not want to hear more; others are hopeless about finding any new light. This is not a scientific attitude. It is only to be expected that the close attention devoted to topography and local history in recent years should throw some light on such questions. Let no gentle reader expect that the pros and cons of every suggested site will be discussed here. We have only one lifetime, and will not expend too much, even of that, on this fascinating question. The Scots site at Burnswork in Dumfries may be said to hold the field. Its champions have laid low many rivals, and they claim the approval of two weighty authorities, Professor Collingwood and Dr. Hodgkin.
However, their theory appears to us, when calmly considered, to have feet of clay. It is based upon the place-name, Burnswork, and secondly on a miracle story. The name, Burnswork, is similar to Bruneswerce, the name of the battle in one of the MSS. of Gaimar's metrical chronicle; of the other three MSS. known, two have Burneweste and one has Brunewerthe. Burnswork also resembles one of the names given by Symeon of Durham, i.e., Brunnanwerc. But Symeon also gives other names which are very different, Wendune and Weondune, as well as Brunanbyrig. When we examine all the records available and collate them, we find that there are two sets of place-names associated with the battle. One set has the root "brun"; the other has the root "wen" or "win." To this second class the advocates of Burnswork hardly do justice, although they make much of Egil's Saga, and this has the "win" forms only. "Winheath," says Dr. Neilson, "may have perished in the waste of time." We hope to shew, later, that it is still alive.
A Lame Leg.
The other leg of the Burnswork theory is the miracle story. One account (there are several) of Athelstan's visit to the shrine of St. John of Beverley speaks of a battle which he fought "on the borders" near a river called the Ford of the Scots. They infer that this battle, not named in the story, was Brunanburh. They also infer that this river was the Solway.
This particular account is given by the anonymous writer of "Other Miracles of St. John of Beverley," who expresses surprise that only William Ketell has recorded the wonders wrought by St. John, and desires to mention some miracles so far not recorded. He is much later than Ketell, whom Canon James Raine would date about 1150, while Mr. A. F. Leach thinks that Ketell's tale can be thrown back to about 1100, though the record itself is of course not so early. Both editors agree in assigning the "Other Miracles" story to about 1180. Dr. Neilson calls it a deliberate correction of Ketell's narrative. Because it mentions the Ford of the Scots, it is, so he says, a "revised and corrected version of Ketell." Surely these are question-begging epithets. It is a later, and, so it seems to us, an exaggerated account. One hardly thinks that those who so extol it can have read the criticism of Mr. A. F. Leach, the editor of the Chapter Act Book of the Collegiate Church of St. John of Beverley. "The later and anonymous miracle-monger of 1180 tells the same story as Ketell, but with the inevitable heightening." Mr. Leach points out that this later version makes King Athelstan encounter not one band only of pilgrims returning from Beverley, but two. The King offers bigger bribes to get St. John's help.
The Solway not Mentioned.
The next weakness of the Burnswork case, as based upon the Beverley miracle-story, is the failure of the Scots scholars to observe that the river referred to in that story is not necessarily the Solway. In their anxiety to place the Battle of Brunanburh at Burnswork in the region of the Solway, Dr. Neilson and Mr. R. L. Bremner have overlooked that the Forth as well as the Solway may be called the Ford of the Scots. Indeed, they seem explicitly to deny this. The writer of the "Other Miracles" of St. John of Beverley says that the Scots, previous to a battle, retired before Athelstan across the river dividing England from Scotland, and that Athelstan, guided by the advice of St. John the Bishop, crossed that river which is called the Scot's ford (flumen quod dicitur Scotorum vadum). Dr. Neilson explains, "that is, the Solway or Sulwath, historically known as the 'Scottiswath' or Scottish ford, and distinguished from the 'Scottiswater' or 'Forth'." Mr. Bremner repeats this argument. Now we expect Scots writers to be better informed about the ancient nomenclature of their own country than those who are mere Southerners. Hence these statements have passed so far without challenge. They should, however, be challenged. It seems to us that these Scots scholars have been mistaken and have misled others. We do not deny that the Solway was a Scottiswath, i.e., a ford of the Scots; but so was the river Forth, which was also styled the "Scottewattre." The Forth is called the Waed in the Saxon Chronicle, year 1073, MS., D.; so Dr. Plummer interprets the word; MS., year 1072, has the form Ge waed; both forms mean a ford.
In the Life of St. Oswald, by Reginald, a monk of Durham (who wrote about 1150), printed by T. Arnold in the appendix to his edition of Symeon of Durham, the Kingdom of Bernicia is described as extending from the Tyne to the Scotwad, i.e., the Forth (usque in Scotwad, quod in Scottorum lingua Forth nominatur). Now Beverley and Dunbar go better with the Forth than with the Solway, and we hope to show that the battle described by the writer of the miracle story, on which story the Burnswork case is largely based, took place on the east of Scotland near the Forth and far away from Burnswork.
Two Campaigns Confused.
For the third and most fatal weakness of the case for Burnswork is that it confuses two separate campaigns. This reviser of Ketell is not a strong witness, but if he were our contention is that Dr. Neilson misunderstands his story. He may be telling us about a battle, but he is not telling us about Brunanburh. There is no mention of such a place, nor of Bruneswerce, in the story, nor of Wendune. The battle is nameless; and it is evident that it belongs to an earlier campaign, namely, that of 934. There are few similarities to the Brunanburh struggle in 937. The Beverley story has no allusion to Anlaf and no reference to a great slaughter. Previous to the clash of arms, the Scots retreated before the English King; this was not the case in 937. This unnamed battle of the Beverley story was fought on Scots soil. By general consent Brunanburh was fought in Northumbria. Let us look at two accounts of the 934 campaign: the first is from the Saxon Chronicle, 934: This year King Athelstan went into Scotland as well with a land army and a fleet, and ravaged a great part of it. (MSS., E. F.D.)
Symeon of Durham, in his History of the Kings, also reports under the same year that Athelstan set out for Scotland and visited the sepulchre of St. Cuthbert on the way and endowed it with lands and other gifts. "Then he subdued his foes, and laid Scotland waste with his land army as far as Dunfoeder and Wertermor, and with his naval force ravaged as far as Catenes (Caithness)." Skene conjectured that Dunfoeder was Dunnotar, near Stonehaven, and that Wertermor is Kirriemuir in Forfar.
The mention of these places in the east of Scotland in the raid of 934 strongly suggests that the visit to Dunbar, also on the east, which is included in the miracle story, took place in 934. The gifts to St. Cuthbert in 934 and Athelstan's prayer for his patronage, are similar to the account in the Beverley record of his visit to St. John's shrine. Note also the employment of a fleet in 934 by Athelstan; the Saxon Chronicle and Symeon both allude to this. It is singular that no mention is made of an English fleet in the Brunanburh campaign. Perhaps some disaster befel the English ships, or they were outnumbered by Anlaf's fleet, or they were held in reserve to protect important harbours. The words "by land and sea," or their equivalents, are characteristic of Athelstan's campaign of 934. They occur in Ketell's story, which the later writer retells.
Egil's Saga and the Burnswork Site.
The topographical references in Egil's Saga have been used to strengthen the case for this site, let us note that some of them at least, when carefully considered, are against this site near the Solway. True, the marks of locality and time in the Saga may not be pressed unduly, but if they are trustworthy for the Burnswork case, they are equally reliable for Blackburn and Darwen.
First of all, we contend that the great battle of 937 A.D. was not at Burnswork, because, according to the Saga, it must have been fought on the southern borders of Northumbria. And as for Burnswork, Mr. R. L. Bremner was an advocate for the Burnswork site, yet his own map (1034) places Dumfries in Cumbria and not in Northumbria. Turn to the Saga, and you see at once that Winsheath is in Northumbria.
Another serious objection to the Burnswork site is that it is too small a stage for the great drama of Brunanburh. Especially is this so if we are to identify the two "borgs" lying north and south of the heath in which, according to the Saga, Anlaf and Athelstan respectively took up their quarters, with the earthworks on Burnswork believed to be two Roman camps. Dr. Neilson asks, "Is there room for one moment's doubt that they are the 'borgs' of Saga?" We reply, Yes; for two reasons: They are probably too small, and they are too close together. As to their size, one estimate says that the camp on the north side of the hill would hold 3,166 men and that on the south side 2,838. (Scot. Hist. Review, vii, i, 51). Now the Saga says in chapter LII that some days previous to the battle Olaf made the northern "borg" his headquarters, and there he had the greatest part of his force. The Annals of Clonmacnoise, quoted in Annals of the Four Masters, estimate the number slain in the host opposed to Athelstan to have been 34,800. No doubt this is an exaggeration, but remembering what Ethelwerd and the Song of Brunanburh say about the magnitude of the battle, it is doubtful whether the capacity of the northern camp on Burnswork can compare with the great host in the following of Anlaf.
Burnswork too Small.
The Saga says that Athelstan's army was at first smaller than Olaf's; but forces flocked by day and night to the "borg" on the south of the heath, so that he had a numerous force (her mikinn) and defied Olaf. On the day of battle it is said each had a large army, equal in numbers. We may be quite confident that the levy of troops personally collected by Athelstan, as he came northwards through the whole land, would exceed the 2,738 capacity of the south "borg."
Of course there were tents as well, but we wish to point out, what has surely not been sufficiently appreciated by Dr. Neilson and Mr. Bremner that the tents were pitched some distance away from the "borgs," and were erected for use on the immediate battlefield, i.e., on the top of the heath. Olaf sent men "up to the heath" from the borg to take the camping ground. In the case of the English army, the tents were on that part of the heath where the space between a stream and a wood was most narrow (Saga, chapter LII.). They stood so high that the front rank of tents hid the others; therefore the front rank must have occupied some pretty high ground. Now from the north camp to the south camp, in a north to south section through Burnswork, is about 2,419 feet, less than half a mile. The top of the hill, the fairly level part is only 450 feet on an average, north to south, to quite Dr. Neilson's own estimate. It seems to us that the space is too cramped to admit two sets of tents for two armies, and a battlefield between. See maps in the "Scottish Historical Review," illustrating Dr. Neilson's theory. When we come to speak presently of the identity of Winshead and Darwen Moor, it will be seen that the site now suggested is immensely more spacious than Burnswork.
There are several indications of distance in the Saga which have not been sufficiently considered, arising from the mention of time. When Athelstan's counsellors wished to postpone battle, they sent an offer to Olaf. It was refused, and the envoys asked for a truce of three days, one to go back home, another for deliberation, and a third to return to Olaf. On the occasion of a further offer, they asked for another three days. True, they wanted to gain time; but they also wished to hide this from Anlaf. If the request had been preposterous, Anlaf would have been undeceived. Moreover, Anlaf's men believed that Athelstan had already arrived at the "borg" south of the heath and had there a mighty host. Now from "borg" to "borg" was only ten minutes' walk according to the Burnswork theory. Suppose the messengers had to avoid the steepest climb and were to ride round by the paved road shown on the plan used by Dr. Neilson, it was still less than a mile. Anlaf deserved to be beaten if he were deceived by such a specious request! But the fact is that the Burnswork platform is too cribbed and confined for the spacious scene of the battle in Egil's Saga.
Take another illustration. The messengers sent by Olaf, when the first offer of Athelstan had been refused, appear to have compressed into one day, by hard riding, the journey for which, with time for bargaining, Olaf allowed three days more. They returned with Athelstan's envoys and found the English King in the south "borg." Much time is saved, because Athelstan has now arrived with a strong army. He can afford to be curt; he made a quick decision on this matter. He offers peace if Olaf will restore what he has wrongfully taken here in the land (another proof that the scene is not laid in Scotland), and will become his under-king. This offer accords well with what we know of Athelstan's policy. But the tenour of this response was different from the tone of the English in former negotiations, when they had been playing for time and offering gold and silver to Olaf to buy peace.
Olaf's envoys were alarmed or indignant. At once that same evening they turned back, and came to the king about midnight. They awaked him and gave him the message. He called his captains, and they declared for war. We do not wish to tie down the teller of the tale to a strict timetable; but he is showing us how the crisis was hastened. The messengers made a great effort to save two days' delay, and bear the momentous tidings to Anlaf. "At once that same evening they turned back"; these words, and the contrast between evening and midnight; and the dramatic touch, the king aroused and council summoned at midnight, all lose their force to a great extent if the two Kings were only half a mile away, almost within earshot.
The Meaning of a Borg.
We fear that Dr. Neilson's anxiety to prove the earthworks identical with the borgs of the Saga has misled him. "Egil," says he, "is the first author on British history to mention the continued service of earthworks, believed to be marching camps of Roman legions." But, we object, Egil's Saga only mentions "borgs." Dr. Neilson says that this word really signifies a fortification, an earthwork. He adds that the misrendering of the word long obscured the significance of it, and criticises Thorkelin for rendering it in Latin "urbs," and Rev. W. C. Green for translating it "town." He quotes with approval a definition of "borg" as a fortress made of turf and timber with a moat round it. Does he not forget that words change their original significance as time goes on, and that there is somewhat of a parallel between our own "burh" and the Norse "borg"? Kemble surmised that "burh," a city, was connected with beorgan, to hide or shelter. The modern German sense of burg, viz., fortress, he believed to be the original Saxon one, and judged that the village grew up around the castle (Codex Dip. iii., p. xix.). But it is evident that the word departed from its original meaning, and came to be applied to villages and towns generally. In Egil's Saga the homestead of Skallagrim was called Borg (chapter xxviii.). A later chapter tells that a church was built at Borg; this Borg was more than an earthworks or a turf and timber fort. York is called a borg in chapter LIX. (Jonsson's edition, 1894). It is evident, then, that the meaning of "borg" had passed the elementary stage when the Saga was compiled. We can hardly doubt that if a Viking found an English town called a "burh" or "byrig" he would call it a "borg." Towns would afford the shelter and accommodation for a great host such as earthworks could hardly supply. King Athelstan's main army was in the south "borg," whither reinforcements flocked day and night. Anlaf had the greater part of his men in the north "borg," where there was a wide country for getting provisions. After the victory, Athelstan returned to the south "borg," where there was much drinking and merriment. In all three cases towns suit the circumstances much better than earthworks. We conclude then that the borgs of the Saga were towns, probably fortified towns; and will return later to the suggestion that Blackburn and Bolton are denoted by the north borg and south borg of Egil's Saga.
The wood mentioned in the battle of Winheath we will discuss when we speak of the Winshead site, and also the burial place of Thorolf. We recapitulate here that the Burnswork case does not find adequate support from place-names in the records, nor from the topographical data of the battlestead in the Egla.
Two Groups of Place-names.
It has already been stated that the names given to the battle of Brunanburb in old records may be divided into two classes: some have the root Brun, which is equivalent to Burn; others have the root Win or Wen. Let us glance briefly at the two groups of names. The Parker MS. of the Saxon Chronicle says that the battle was "ymbe (i.e., near) Brunnan burh" other MSS. give "byrig" or "byri" as the second element; these forms mean much the same, namely, fort, or fortified town. The first element is in the genitive case, like that in Petersburg; so that Henry of Huntingdon gives Brunesburh as the equivalent.
Ethelwerd, a chronicler who claimed to belong to the royal house of Wessex, and who died about 998, places the battle at Brunandune. The Pictish Chronicle has Duinbrunde. Symeon of Durham, writing in the twelfth century, but with special sources of information for northern affairs, gives alternative forms which include Brunnanwerc. This reminds us of the name given by Gaimar, Bruneswerce. The battle of "Brune" is mentioned in the Annals of Cambria, and in another Welsh chronicle, confirming our impression that the name was used absolutely, and that the fort, ford, field, or hill, added to it in so many other records, are enclitic. In the group of names with a Win or Wen root, Symeon of Durham is the most important witness. In his History of Durham Church, written about 1198, he says that Athelstan fought at Weondune, and gives the other name of the place, already cited. Many years afterwards, before 1130, he wrote a History of the Kings, and used a source specially well informed about Northumbrian affairs. About Athelstan's raid against the Scots in 934 he gives valuable and original information. Then immediately, under the date 937, he says, "King Athelstan fought at Wendune, and put to flight King Onlaf with 615 ships, and Constantine, King of Scots also, and the King of the Cumbrians with all their host."
The Three Names in the Saga.
Symeon's place-names, Weondune and Wendune, may now be compared with those given in Egil's Saga. The usual text gives three names in the Icelandic. They occur in oblique cases, of which the nominatives are here set out. The battle site was a place called Vinheidr, which we may render, as Plummer does, Winheath. It was said to be near Vinuskogr, which is equivalent to Winswood. The third name, which occurs in the lament sung by Egil over the grave of his brother on the battlefield, would yield a nominative Vina. Some editors regard this as a poetical abbreviation of Vinheidr; but this is unnecessary, and Jónsson, who put forth this interpretation in his first edition, returned in his 1894 edition of the Saga to the opinion of the older editor, Thorkelin. He now renders it in German, "an der Wina." The English equivalent would place the battle site "near Win," or "near the Win." We will refer more fully to this name a little later, and consider whether it denotes a river.
Winheath, Winswood and Win, then, are names associated with the battlefield in Egil's Saga. But there are a great many MSS. of the Saga; and several interesting variant readings of the first of these three names have been found.
Vinhaed is one of these other readings, and is quoted by Mr. R. L. Bremner; this would be Winhead in English. It is supported by a variant passage quoted by Thorkelin, which says that Athelstan's men pitched their tents on a mickle hill (haed mikill). Another form, quoted by Thorkelin, would yield a nominative Vinnu-heidr; this would be Winsheath in English. In all these forms we have changed the Icelandic V into the English W; for, generally speaking, there was no W in the Old Norse alphabet, while the Icelandic V had the sound of our W, e.g., "vel" was sounded like our "well."
As to Winsheath and Winheath, it is a common thing to find a possessive "s" appearing and disappearing at the end of the first element in a name. This may be illustrated from Darwen locality, where Hollinshead and Hollinhead are both used, and also Hollingrove and Hollinsgrove. Hitherto, no site has been proposed which satisfactorily explains these two sets of place-names. The Win or Wen forms especially are not seriously faced by the advocates of the Burnswork case. Where shall we find a field for the conflict which was the battle of Brun or Burn, and also the battle of Win or Wen?
As long ago as 1899, Rev. C. Plummer, in his notes to the Saxon Chronicle, wrote these words, "Local research might discover a Winheath, which would definitely fix the spot." The present writer claims to have done this. The site put forward as the actual spot where the battle began is Winshead or Wenshead, a spacious hill and heath at Darwen. Both forms just cited are found, but Wenshead is the more usual. The place lies on the western boundary of Darwen Moor, south of Sunnyhurst. There is evidence that originally Wenshead covered a larger tract of country than the name is applied to at present; indeed, it is probably an alternative name for Darwen Head, as we shall see later.
The Wenshead site has the advantage of accounting for both sets of names. It explains those in Wen, especially if our contention is sound that Wen or Win is a short form of Darwen. At any rate, the Winheath or Winhead of the Saga is discovered, we believe, in Winshead or Wenshead on Darwen Moor. Either head or heath was the original second element in Old English. If heath, then the English name has undergone a change, similar to that in Hedley, Northumberland, which was originally heath-lea; or similar to "hedder," a dialect form of heather. It seems to us more probable that the original name of the battle-site was Winhead, which more closely approximates to Symenon's Wendune, and to the present name of the site.
Old Icelandic texts had only one letter for "th" and "dh"; moreover, the word for height ("haed") was unusual in compounds; therefore a transliteration from the English Winhead would be likely to become in course of time, Vinheidr or Winheath. Both in Old English and in Icelandic the words for heath and for head (in the sense of hill) were similar, and apt to be confused; especially as a heath was often a hill as well. We find Billington called Billingahoth and Billingduna in the twelfth century; this may help us to see how Winheath and Wendune may be the same.
A Battle with Two Names. Why?
But if Wenshead on Darwen Moor corresponds to the Wen names, can it account for the other set, the Brun or Burn names? Assuredly, for our view is that Brun is Blackburn, and this name, we most recollect, represents not only a town but a parish and a hundred. Wenshead is in Blackburn ancient parish, hence the double set of names is accounted for. Moreover, Blackburn town is not far away. The battlefield is located in the contemporary Song as "near Brunnanburh"; and Blackburn town is about four miles from Wenshead. The Saga of Egil states that a fortified place lay north of the battle-site; and a town at the head of the hundred would be likely to have some defences. Bruneswerc, and Brunfort (in the Book of Hyde), other forms given in the chronicles, also seem to denote a fortified place. Brunford (in William of Malmesbury) may be a variant for "fort," or it may relate to a ford over the Darwen or Ribble, and there were several such fords in the hundred of Blackburn. According to the Saga, the fortified place to the north of the heath was the headquarters of Anlaf. Some fighting, perhaps, took place there after the battle. Both the Song in the Saxon Chronicle and the account in Egil's Saga speak of a long battle and a long pursuit. The whole contest might include fighting at town and fort and ford, as well as a set battle on the heath and hill.
Other battles have, for various reasons, had two or more names. The battle of Hastings was seven miles from the field of that name; hence Freeman insisted in calling it Senlac. Cromwell's victory over Duke Hamilton, in 1648, is known as the Battle of Preston, but also as Ribble Bridge; moreover, there was fierce fighting during the retreat at Chorley and Newton. So, Athelstan's pitched battle began at Wenshead, but if Anlaf was at Blackburn he would be driven out and pursued at least as far as the Ribble. Hence the double set of names is quite explicable.
How Brunanburh Became Blackburn.
If we look closely we shall recognise our modern town in the old form. The body of the word remains the same, though it has gained a new head and lost its tail. For the body is brun, and the Welsh Chronicles shew that the simple form was in use, but by a familiar process of transposition Brun has become Burn, exactly as with the dialect word meaning to destroy by fire, or as "brid" becomes "bird." Brindle was once Burnhull, so Brun is now Burn. As for the lost ending, there was an enclitic use of the word burh, as there still is in the case of town, e.g., "How many miles to Dublin-town?" Rome was called Romana burh, London was Lunden burh. In the case of one Lancashire township, Euxton, the residents still say Euxton-burgh for the higher end of the village.
Before Domesday Book, 1086, Blackburn had gained a distinguishing epithet - Black, no doubt to differentiate it from other Burns, of which there was a great number. Local tradition connects the name with the stream called the Blakewater, which is not quite convincing. The application of the epithet black to stream, moor, castle, and even to families in this hundred deserves careful consideration. This is by the way. The Welsh records say that the town or district was called Brun or Brune in 937. Burnley itself may contain a reference to the old name of the hundred, if the name of its river may be, as some scholars think, a back formation.
Win, a River Name.
If Brun was used absolutely in 937 so was Win. Egil sang, "Green grows the earth over my noble brother near to Win." Thorkelin explains that this is the name of a stream, or the heath, or a town near the heath. There is some indication that it was the name of a river, and, if so, of course, a local name for the Darwen. The same name (Vina) is given in a a former chapter of the Saga to the Russian river Dwina. An old list of British rivers in the Snorra Edda also includes the Vin and Vina; and Vigfusson notes that this river occurs twice in an old lay, and was also in Egil's Saga.
The river Dwina in Russia becomes Vina in Egil's Saga, and similarly Darwen becomes Vin or Win. Symeon's form, Wendune, shows that the Win was not a mistake made by a stranger, but that a short name was in use. We may call it an abrasion, or perhaps more correctly a local, unofficial name. The local pronunciation is now "Darren," but that does not prove that the hard word may not be simplified in another way. Some of our Christian names, such as Margaret, may be shortened in more than one way. A common instance is Bert for Albert, or Belle for Isabel. Onund for Bergonund occurs in Egil's Saga. Place-names are similarly shortened: Burh and Chester stood for different places, with longer, official names, in the Chronicles. Country Down people say "Ards" for Newtonards; the Dutch say "Dam" for Amsterdam. So the Darwen was called Wen or Win.
Wenshead, Wensyde, and Wensley.
The short form Wen for Darwen fell into disuse. After the references in the Saga and in Symeon of Durham it cannot be traced in an absolute form, the full name, Darwen, prevails over it. It was preserved, however, in three compounds, Wenshead, Wensyde, and (with less certainty) Wensley Fold. The name Wenshead occurs in suits of the 16th century. There are two estates of this name, one associated with the Baron family, and Baron Pastures adjoin Higher Wenshead; a Walsh or Welsh family was also connected with one estate called Wenshead. It should be noted that lands of this name are sometimes described as in Tockholes; this may arise because the estates extended across the stream which divided Darwen from Tockholes; the Baron family are also sometimes said to be domiciled in Tockholes.
In February, 1584-5, there was a charge against several people of concealing and withholding lands from the Crown, which had been forfeited by John Paslew, abbot of Whalley, or had belonged to Bolton School. One charge, against Ellen Baron, concerned a messuage called Weneshead, otherwise Wenshead, and 140 acres of land and pasture adjoining. Part of the concealed land was said to be in Tockholes. In 1588 an ancient messuage in Tockholes, called Wensyde, in the tenure of John Baron and Alexander Waddington, both of Tockholes, was claimed as chantry land belonging to the chantry of St. Nicholas in Leyland Parish Church. Again, there is a place named Wensley Fold on the western side of Blackburn. This is probably to be connected with the old short form of Darwen found in Wenshead and Wensyde; just as Schevynlegh lies near to Shevington. We should be interested to hear of old forms or instances of Wensley; for there is just a chance that it may arise from a surname or be an import from Yorkshire. The Anderton family had a cotton mill at Wensley Fold in 1770 or a little later. If this is a genuine ancient place-name, it fortifies our identification of Win and Wen with Darwen; for Wensley Fold is not far away from the River Darwen and its tributary stream, the Blakewater.
How Wenshead was Spelt.
The uncertainty or fluctuation in the vowel sound of Wen is another point of similarity with the last syllable of Darwen. The entries in Blackburn Church Register illustrate this irregularity; we find Wenshead in 1619 abd 1621, Baron family; Wensehead, 1621, Walsh f.; Wenshead, 1626, both families; Wenshead in Tockholes, 1627, Baron f.; Wenshead, 1629, Walsh f.; Wainesheade, 1638, Walsh f. The list of wills at Chester for this period, both families, shew also that one Wenshead at least was sometimes described as in Tockholes.
Variants in spelling continue almost to the present day. The largest estate in the manor of Over Darwen, when the sale took place in 1799, was Higher Wenshead, containing over 81 acres. It was in the occupation of James Brindle (rent £35), which no doubt accounts for the name Brindle Brow applied to the western slope of the hill at this place, a name which has found its way on to the maps. Lower Wanshead (sic) was over 63 acres; the tenant was John Duckworth, who paid £18 rent.
This form, Wanshead, reminds us of Wainesheade in 1638. The more usual spellings ring the changes on "i" and "e," just as in the case of Darwen. For instance, Mr. J. G. Shaw, writing in 1889, quotes in his History of Darwen an old letter which says, "James Worsley's farm, you may remember, is called Winshead." Mr. Shaw goes on to give some suggestions as to the meaning of this name which he calls "Wenshead or Winshead." We need not follow the history of the place-name in its restricted sense any further; but it may be added that both Higher and Lower Wenshead have been acquired by Darwen Corporation. Reasons have already been adduced for believing that the "Vin" of the Saga is Darwen. This carries with it the conclusion that Wins Heath is Darwen Heath or Moor; and that Winshead, or Wenshead, though now apparently limited to the west slope of the great headland, yet preserves an older form of wider application. The name might very credibly become more restricted as assarts were made and other names were given to separate farms; and as Darwen ousted Win or Wen.
That the whole extent of the hill bore the name Darwen Head is evident from a record of boundaries in a suit of the year 1699, when that name is found at the south-west extremity of the moor near to Hollinshead Hall. Darwen Moor was then declared to be divided from Bromley Pastures in Sharples by "the syke of Darwen Head or Darwen Shield." Thus the site of Wenshead satisfactorily accounts for both classes of place-names; and many matters, some of small import, some of greater weight, point to the conclusion that Win or Wen is Darwen, and that Burnanburh is Blackburn.
To a casual reader it might seem that the features of the battlefield depicted in the Saga are so common - a stream here, a wood there - that many places might be found to fit the scene. There are many allusions in Egil's Saga, however, which the careful observer will note, not easily duplicated when taken all together. The battlestead must have been a picturesque and striking situation; as Dr. Neilson puts it, a rendezvous marked out by nature. Moreover, it was closely observed by a trained eye, and it is vividly portrayed; possibly the details are taken from one of the lost poems of Egil.
The Actual Battlefield.
We shall speak, in turn of the following topographical features: the heath itself; the stream or streams; the great wood; the mickle how or great tomb; the south "borg" or fortified place. The north "borg" we reserve for another chapter. The whole story of the heath or head where the battle took place implies that it was a great hill. Anlaf's men approaching from the north were sent up to the heath. One variant reading says, "Near to the stream there was a mickle hill (haed mikill) on which hill the soldiers of Athelstan pitched." It is uncertain whether this was the great hill itself on which the battle was fought, for this hill stands by a stream, or whether some neighbouring hill, or a mound on the moorland height itself, is signified. Two other features are stressed. On the top of the battle height there was a plateau of level land; and this was very extensive. All these requirements are met by Darwen Moor.
As to the actual battlefield where the heath was level, and hazel rods, as described in Egil's Saga, were placed to mark the site, we incline to the opinion that it was the great plain south of the Jubilee Tower, for this is adjacent to the spot where the name Wenshead is still retained, and the stream runs by (on a lower level) on the west. The wood is still seen in the place-names on the east. In this case Anlaf's tents would be on the slope of the hill plateau adjacent to Sunnyhurst; Athelstan's men would probably be encamped in the vicinity of Stepback. If the hill where his tents were really differed from Darwen Hill, as a variant reading suggests, then possibly his men occupied Cartridge Hill; for a front row of tents on the top of that eminence might be arranged so as to hide the number of tents from those looking southward.
It would appear that the tents were placed on the slopes of the heath, and, in the case of the English, perhaps, on adjoining hills, so as to leave the level plain free for the fighting.
It seems strange to us that armies should climb to such an eminence as Darwen Moor to fight it out. Possibly the wood and bogs and flooded valleys of the locality left them little choice. They had to climb to get a fairly dry plain. It is not very dry now; but mining and turf-getting have no doubt altered the watercourses, so that what it is now may be very different from what it was in 937 A.D.
If Winheath or Wenshead was Darwen Moor, as we believe, then we have a site for the battle described in Egil's Saga, which is much more spacious than the site at Burnswork. We cannot tell how much of the ground now open was, in 937 A.D., taken up by woodland; but Darwen Moor, according to Shaw consisted of 1889 of a common of 296 acres, intersected by a network of footpaths about 30 miles in length, and of course Turton Moor and other moorlands adjoin.
The stream, which ran by the place where the battle was to be, was on one side of the plateau, and there was a wood on the other side. In the space between wood and water where it was least, yet it was pretty big, Althelstan's men pitched and all that space between wood and water was filled by their tents. The water mentioned is probably the western tributary of the Darwen, Stepback brook; for the eastern feeder of the Darwen rising at White Hill was on the same side of the hill plateau as the wood.
The expression in the Saga, "between wood and water," and the assignment of that part of the plateau "near to the stream" to Athelstan's army, do not, we believe, imply that the hill-top plateau is on the same level as the stream. We take the description of the side of the plain "near to the water" to mean the western half of the hill, adjacent to the valley through which the stream runs. When the Saga says that the English tents quite filled the space between wood and water where the space was narrowest, it says so in conjunction with the statement that the slope party hid the camp of Athelstan. This suits quite well the gate of the moors at Stepback, where the tents could not have reached to the water without being pitched on the slope.
The Winswood of the Saga.
The advocates of the Burnswork theory have hard work to account for the wood named in the Saga, and this also goes against their view. Dr. Neilson omits the wood from the eight criteria which he gives to test the validity of any suggested site. He hardly expects to find surviving signs of it at Burnswork; yet believes there are traces in the form of Hazelberry, on the north of Burnswork, and in Shawhill beside it. The wood, however, plays a prominent part in the battle; it adjoins the heath; and an ambush in the wood is the cause of the fall of Thorolf, brother of Egil. Our site at Darwen still reveals traces of a great wood, both in place-names and tradition. Wood Head, Wood Side, Lower Trees, Higher Trees, are on the east side of the moorland height, and marked on the ordnance. Farms with these names were offered for sale with the manor in 1799, except that Wood Side is then called merely Wood. Sunnyhurst on the north of the moor had evidently been replanted at that time, for "Soonerst, Trees and Darwen," had "lately been fenced out and planted with several sorts of timber trees." Jeremy Hunt, an old inhabitant (1806-1887) with a great knowledge of local matters, has handed down a tradition that once upon a time a great wood extended from Woodhead in Darwen to Woodhead in Pickup Bank; and old men used to tell of the immense trees found in the locality. Bury Fold Lane was once a thickly-wooded lane. The tenant of Lower Trees used to find hazel trees with the nuts upon them buried four and five feet in the ground. There was a great row of beeches extending from Lower Trees to High Lumb. These tales and traditions gain in force when we remember that they were not collected to prove a case, but the present writer found them ready to hand.
But he has something to add to the testimonies of the "oldest inhabitant"; and that is the reminder that the forest of Rossendale extended to Darwen; its western limit included Pickup Bank and Yate Bank which were comprised in Hoddlesden Chace. Now Hoddlesden Moss adjoins Darwen Moor on the south-east. The evidence above suggests that anciently the forest extended right along the eastern side of Darwen hill, covering the site of the present town and up the slope of the moor as far as Woodhead. This western reach of Rossendale forest was no doubt known as Darwen Wood, and we suggest that it was the Winswood, of the Saga. One apparent difficulty meets us in fitting the topography of the Saga to Darwen Moor. In drawing up the battle line, Athelstan is said to have placed his own division on the level plateau, towards, or on the same side as, the stream (til arinnar), while Thorolf's division was on the higher ground near the wood. Now the east side of Darwen Hill south of the Jubilee Tower, i.e., the wood side, is not markedly higher than the west side next to the vale through which the stream runs. There is, however, some high ground south of an old quarry and west of Green Lowe Farm, and this may have been Thorolf's starting-place. Moreover, the word (efra) usually translated higher, may equally well be rendered further inland, which in this case would be east, away from the stream. Thus no real difficulty remains.
The Mickle Howe.
The grave of Thorolf, brother of Egil, who was killed at Brunanburh, and buried on the battlefield, has played an important part in the case for the Burnswork site; and Dr. Neilson includes the presence of a howe on the hill as one of the necessary criteria in his list of the marks of the genuine site. He points in triumph to the tumulus on Burnswork, 70 feet in diameter and 10 feet high. It has been excavated, in 1899, but nothing valuable found. Some writers feel that the size and site of the tumulus are "victoriously clamant" for the Burnswork case. But on Darwen Moor an even greater mound, 90 feet wide and 10 to 12 feet high, was opened in 1864. Nothing certainly related to Viking times was found; but a number of burial urns belonging to the Bronze Age, which are now in Darwen Library. A bronze spearhead was also found, which Mr. C. Hardwick thought resembled an Anglo-Saxon weapon. If so, it would represent a secondary internment in later times. There is scarcely sufficient evidence for disassociating it from the urns with which it was found.
But we wish to call special attention to the number of cairns in Turton, adjoining Darwen Moor. Hanging Stone, Big Grey Stones, Andrew's Buttery, the Three Lowes, the Druidical Circle, and Old Man hill which probably implies the existence of a cairn. One howe in Turton in the year 1410, according to a document copied by Christopher Towneley bore the name of Torhawe. Professor Ekwall thinks that Turton itself comes from the Scandinavian name Thor. We wonder whether Torhawe can be traced, and whether it had any connection with the mickle howe of Thorolf, brother of Egil? Windbarrow is also mentioned (?Win barrow). One very interesting discovery is recorded. The copper head of a British standard was found at Turton. Was this carried into the great fight in front of the earls of Bretland?
The Town on the South.
Bolton-le-Moors is the place that we suggest for the borg where Athelstan sat.
The antiquity of Bolton is beyond question. At the church there a cross is extant which Professor Collingwood pronounces to be of pre-Viking date. Bolton after the Norman conquest was the head of an important fee. Before the Conquest we have not found evidence that it was a fortified place. The absence of records does not prove that it was not. Moreover, places change their names, and some of the forts built by Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia, have not been with certainty identified. If tradition counts for anything, there is a persistent tradition that Smithhills Hall was the residence of a Saxon King, and more than one Saxon King. The place-name, Bolton, itself, as Professor Ekwall suggests, may mean the town of some very special dwelling such as a palace.
The town does lie "under the heath," in this sense that it is lower than Darwen Moor, and stands at the foot of a great stretch of moorland reaching from Darwen to the valley of the River Croal. Dr. Neilson lays too much stress, as it seems to us, on the fact that the English pitched their tents on a steep (Icelandic - hatt) place, which he takes as a criterion that the hill of the battlefield had a sharper fall on the south than on the north. There is a fairly steep slope to Darwen Moor on the south. At Sharples especially, as perhaps the name implies, the moorland does descend sharply towards Bolton. As we have shown, however, the English tents may have been on a mound on Darwen Moor itself, or on Cartridge Hill; and the usual text of the Saga implies that they were, as we think, on the western slope of the hill reaching down to Stepback stream.
Once again, Bolton suits very well the allusions to the south borg in the negotiations before the battle. The distance from Blackburn to Bolton, about 14 miles, is just the distance that would make a request for a three days' truce to go, consider, and return; a reasonable one, and also make a night journey from one to the other a read effort. Manchester had been fortified by Edward the Elder, but Manchester was too far away. Perhaps Anlaf was at Preston and Athelstan at Bolton, when the challenge was first given to wage a battle at Winshead; then the field would lie roughly midway between the two Kings. Anlaf moved northwards (til) Winshead, some time before the actual conflict. This was a strategic move, as the Saga says, for the purpose of obtaining provisions, and accords very well with our theory, inasmuch as he would have the forest and booths of Blackburnshire to draw upon for the purchase of supplies. Some variant readings make him move before the battle to "Winsheath town" (borg). This error, for so the editors regard it, arises from absence of punctuation marks, and is easily explicable by the context. Was there already a town at Darwen? Probably not a borg or fortified town, at any rate, for if in close proximity to the heath, we should have expected it to be mentioned in the Saga. Moreover, the wood on the east of the battlestead probably extended over part at least of the site of the present town. There may have been a village or settlement in the wood. The discovery of urn-burials proves that, at a very much earlier period, the district was peopled. Psychology, if not history, may justify us in closing this chapter with a purple patch. Is Darwen Moor such a place as would make a deep and abiding impression on the mind of Egil, soldier and poet, hero of the Saga?. Dr. Neilson has spoken eloquently of Burnswork, but not more eloquently than Mr. W. T. Ashton wrote of Darwen. If Burnswork be a "kenspeckle" rendezvous marked out by nature, a fine, bold, rounded hill in the heart of Annandale, standing out against the skyline in extensive prospects, and commanding a wide panoramic view, what of Darwen Hill, bigger and broader far? Mr. Ashton speaks of those who have gone from its slopes to the ends of the earth, and have carried in their hearts to Queensland and Sydney the imperishable picture of its massiveness and grandeur.
The northern earthworks on Burnswork Hill, as already stated, does not well suit the description of the north borg in Egil's Saga. It is too small to have held Anlaf's army; it is too close to the battlestead, and also to the south borg. Blackburn better agrees with the borg north of the heath. It lies four miles north of Darwen, where we believe the battle was fought, and, as head of a forest, with booths and vaccaries, suits the purpose of Anlaf's removal to the north borg, that is, the provisioning of his army. The 14 miles between Blackburn and Bolton furnish the required distance for the three days truce, twice granted, and the forced journey on the second occasion. The borg is actually on the heath (or head) at Burnswork; but Egil's Saga shews that they lay apart. When Adils suggested the night attack, Anlaf remained behind, explaining, "We will here (in the north borg) make ready our army, when it is light we will come to your aid." Adils moved southward for the heath - this implies apartness. The march thither took some time - this implies a fair distance. For when Adils and his brother arrived day had dawned, and the sentinels of Thorolf the Viking sighted the advancing foe. Blackburn and Darwen better suit the story; they are not in the awkward proximity of borg and heath at Burnswork.
But why Blackburn, rather than Preston, for instance? Because, as already discussed, Blackburn appears in the chronicles, in old fashioned guise, and gave a name to the fight, as Hastings gave a name to the conflict at Senlac.
What is a Burh?
One discovery, if well substantiated, leads to another. If Brunan burh is Blackburn, then it would seem to follow that the town itself, and possibly the church there, were built by Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great, about the year 910.
We have mentioned that the Icelandic word borg may be misunderstood; a similar danger attends the old English word burh. It may mean a fort, but afterwards meant a fortified town, and later still a town without fortifications. The Saxon fort was generally a timber stockade at the top of a mound. The line of burhs made by Edward the Elder and his sister Aethelflaed were, however, more than this, they were fortified towns. Their purpose throws light on the nature and size. We may trust William of Malmesbury when he says that they were ancient towns (urbes) restored or new ones freshly built, in places selected for the special purpose of protecting the inhabitants and driving off the Danes.
Bremesburh or Brunesburh?
Consider now the evidence for believing that the first burh or fortified town which Aethelflaed is recorded to have built was identical with Brunanburh (Blackburn).
Chroniclers vary in their references to the burh and the battlefield, and we may group them in three classes. These are those who given somewhat different names to the burh and battle: so that the name of the town contains the letter "m," the name of the battle the letter "n." Foremost of these is the Saxon Chronicle, the Parker MS. of which does not mention the burh, but the MS. called C, incorporating a short Mercian record, says that in 910, after the fight against the Danes at Teotanhaele, Aethelflaed built the burh at Bremesburig.
Secondly, there are chroniclers who give to Aethelflaed's town and Athelstan's battle practically the same name. It may be objected that some of the chroniclers in this group, and in the next about to be mentioned, are of late date, and not very dependable. In answer to this we reply that the greatest weight must be attached to contemporary records, and those adjudged to have copied contemporary sources. Nevertheless, we cannot neglect the later writers. There is always a chance that they used some early source, and even that they know personally some place which they mention, as when Florence of Worcester locates the battle of Teotenhale (Tottenhall) in Staffordshire.
Archdeacon Henry of Huntingdon says that after this fight against the Danes, Aethelflaed built, in the same year, the burh of Brunesburih. Now he gives practically the same spelling to the great battle against Anlaf, he calls it Brunesburith. We quote the Arundel MS.; and although other copies of Henry of Huntingdon's chronicle give to the burh of Aethelflaed such names as Brimesbirih and Brimesbirith, resembling those in the Saxon Chronicles. Mr. Grant Allen, in his account of Aethelflaed, believes that the Brunesburith form preserves an original reading.
Similarly, the chronicle of Ailred, abbot of Rievaulx, transcribed by Twysden, gives the name Brunesburch to the burh built by Aethelflaed. Further, the chronicle of Jervaulx, abstracted by Leland, calls Aethelflaed's burh Brunnesburg and Athelstan's battle Brunneburgh. Another text (?) transcribed by Twysden has Brimesburge for the former name; but Leland transcribed his extract twice, with the same spelling.
A Minster Built at Brunesburh.
It is true that the Jervaulx Chronicle, sometimes called the chronicle of John Brompton, is an uncritical work, and compiled after the middle of the 14th century, but it contains some matter from early sources. The form of the statement which it makes about Aethelflaed's burh introduces a new item, which is interesting in itself, and which incidentally shews that the chronicle is not here merely dependent on Henry of Huntingdon. For the Jervaulx Chronicle mentions also a "monasterium," and Henry does not. In the same year, as her husband, Ethelred's death, she built a monasterium and a burh at Brunnesburg. Monasterium does not only mean a monastery, but it may mean a parish church, as Ducange shews. The word is often used of a church specially large and splendid, a minster.
Thirdly, a number of chronicles, mostly of late date, give to the great battle of 937 a name which includes the letter "m"; speaking somewhat roughly they give to the battlefield a name similar to that given to the burh of Athelflaed in the Saxon Chronicle. According to Roger of Hoveden, who died about 1201, the fight was at Brumanburgh. Three texts of the so-called chronicle of Robert of Gloucester speak of the battle at Brymesbury, Bremesbury, and Brunesburie. Two MSS. of Higden's Polychronicon have Brumford and Brimanburgh.
If Bremesburh and Brunanburh are the same palce, the "m" forms may have arisen from mistakes in copying; or alternatively they may both represent a common archetype. Bromnis is a place mentioned in the Life of Wilfrid; and such a Latinised form might give rise to a variety of spellings. It is strange also that the first part of the Roman name for Ribchester seems to contain a similar root.
Reasons for a Burh at Blackburn.
Either the burh of 910 and the battlefield of 937 are the same place, or they have been confused. If error has arisen, the confusion is twofold; some have given the name of the burh to the battle, and some the name of the fight to the town.
We believe that they are the same place, on the following grounds. According to Egil's saga, a fortified place lay to the north of the battlestead, and in that borg Anlaf had great part of his forces. According to the Saxon Chronicle, the battle was near a burh, this is implied in the name Brunanburh; and some of the names in other records imply a fortified place.
Again, no satisfactory site for Aethelflaed's first burh has been found. Bramebury, near Torksey, was suggested by Mr. Arnold, but rejected by Dr. Plummer as on the wrong side of the country entirely. He agrees with C. S. Taylor's identification, Conigree Hill, a great mound entrenched at the summit, at Bromesberrow, near Ledbury. But Florence of Worcester calls Aethelflaed's burh a town (urbs); and we think a mound, however great, does not meet the case, especially if we admit the statement of the Jervaulx Chronicle about the minster at Brunnesburg.
It seems to us that there are sound reasons why a burh should be built at Blackburn, as a refuge for Mercian settlers, and a barrier in the path of raiders from Scotland and Ireland, making their way into Yorkshire.
Protection for Mercian Settlers.
Was there a Mercian colony in the land between Ribble and Mersey before 937? The Ribble appears to have been the ancient boundary between Northumbria and Mercia at the peace made between Alfred and Guthrum; though there is no complete agreement among scholars as this. An interesting contribution to the problem of the nationality of the Angles in the future South Lancashire has recently been made by Professor Ekwall. Judging from language as revealed in place-names, he concludes that while both Mercians and Northumbrians took part in the colonisation of the district, yet before 923 it had a Mercian population. In Domesday Book, as is well-known, the land south of Ribble was surveyed with Mercia. From Athelstan's time, also, if not before, it was included in the Mercian diocese of Lichfield. The locality may have been called Northumbria. Chronicle E describes Whalley in 798 as in Northumbria. Perhaps too much stress may be laid upon this. Speaking of another site so described, "Any place in the north of England," says Professor Collingwood, "was in Northumbria"; this of course in a general sense. Manchester was said to be in Northumbria in 923 when Edward the Elder occupied it. This event is often taken to denote the northern limit of Mercian expansion at that date; and this was a dozen years after Aethelflaed's burh was built. Can she, at so early a date, have founded a burh at Blackburn?
Is there anything in the Chronicle to prove that Manchester was the limit of the Mercian advance in 923? Does not the fact that the Mercian force was sent to repair and man it, suggest that the place had been ruined in a Danish raid, and, if so, that the Mercians had an interest there before this date? Whether South Lancashire was in the strict sense Northumbria or not, there were Mercian settlers, and, if it lay in her power, Aethelflaed would wish to protect them against Pagan invaders. As the Danes had towns in Mercia, it is reasonable to think that the Mercians may have had outposts in the debateable land between Ribble and Mersey, colonies constituting a sort of "Mercia irredenta."
Blackburn a Barrier to Irish Danes.
There was another reason for a fortified place at Blackburn. Many roads met there, and a garrison at that point would intercept invaders arriving by the Ribble, bound for Yorkshire. Mercia was menaced at this time from Ireland, both by Danes and Norse. Igmund, a Norse chief, from Dublin, settled in Wirral about 900; and a dozen years afterwards we read in The Three Fragments of Irish History (edited by O'Donovan) of the great hosts of Black Gaills and White Gaills who came into Saxonland. These made war against Aethelflaed. One object of her fortified places undoubtedly was to put barriers between the Irish Danes and the Five Danish Boroughs. The burh at Runcorn was intended to prevent raiders entering by the Mersey; but the Irish invaders could not be shut out while the way from the Ribble estuary to Manchester and over Blackstone Edge remained unguarded.
Was Blackburn beyond her influence? We think not. Ethelwerd calls her husband King, and says that he ruled Northumbria as well as Mercia. The Saxon Chronicle states that the people of York submitted to her command. The Three Fragments mentions her alliance with the men of Alba (Scotland) and with the Britons of Strathclyde. Several chronicles connect the building of her first burh with a victory over the Danes in which many leaders were slain. Among these was a certain Agmund the Hold. Professor Bugge and others have suggested that he was chief of Amounderness, and that this district was called after him. There is evidence, of a doubtful charter, that even after this, Amounderness was in the hands of "the pirates." Nevertheless the victory led to the building of a fortified town: perhaps it revealed the need of protection at this place; perhaps it opened the way for Aethelflaed to extend her boundaries by right of conquest.
In 1066 Blackburn was a royal manor, and head of a hundred. It was an administrative centre for a wide area; this accords well with our view of its origin. If Blackburn was the Brunesburh of the battle, as Henry of Huntingdon spells the name, then we are led to the conclusion that it was also the Brunesburh founded in 910 by Lady Aethelflaed.
On May 15, 1840, in a field near Cuerdale Hall, some workmen were employed for William Assheton, Esq., of Downham. They were busy making a new slope on the south bank of the river Ribble, when, at a place about 40 yards from the water and adjacant to an ancient ford across the stream, they came upon hidden treasure. One of the labourers struck his spade into a lead-covered box, which had been buried about two feet and a half below the surface, and was coated with alluvial deposit.
"Oyster shells!" he exclaimed, examining the contents of the box. His companions came to look, and one of them pronounced them to be buttons. "Silver buttons, too!"
At the magic word "silver," the workmen within earshot threw down their tools and scrambled for possession of the round, pearly-grey objects which tumbled out of the earth in profusion at their feet. Somebody else was at hand, however. The estate bailiff arrived and claimed possession of the treasure on behalf of Mr. Assheton, lord of the manor. Finding is not keeping, except by stealth; and so the more honest workmen disgorged their gains. Some of another kidney slipped silver pieces into their shoes and socks, and it is alleged that thousands of coins were stolen.
Ultimately the booty was claimed for the nation as treasure trove, but the authorities dealt most generously with the contents of the chest. The lord of the manor, Mr. Assheton, received a gift of some of the coins and certain of the ornaments and ingots, enclosed in a rosewood cabinet. A complete set of all types of coin in the hoard was reserved for the British Museum; and then specimens were sent to universities and museums throughout the world. "Mirabilia fecit" (He hath done wonders) was the legend on hundreds of the coins. It was certainly one of the "mirabilia," that for nine centuries the leaden box had held its secret not far from a busy road and river.
The box contained about a thousand ounces of silver in ingots and ornaments; and, apart from those lost, about 7,000 silver coins were recovered. Armlets or bracelets were found in several stages of preparation. There were large ingots, three and a quarter inches long, cast in moulds of metal and baked clay, some of the moulds being marked with a cross. In addition there were cut pieces and lumps of metal, as if ornaments had been melted up, or a silversmith's stock had been seized. There can be little doubt that some part of the hoard was the takings of an army of raiders. A Thor's hammer amulet, and chisels, were found among the items, but no implements for coining.
The analysis of the coins is as follows :-- 24 coins of Athelstan of East Anglia; 2, Ceowulf II. of Mercia; 3, Athelred of Wessex; 919, Alfred; 51, Edward the Elder; 1, Archbishop Ceolnoth; 1, Archbishop Ethered; 59, Archbishop Plegmund; 1,815, memorial coins of St. Edmund; 2, Halfdene; 2, Earl Sihtric; 2,534, Cnut; 238, Siefred; 205, other ecclesiastical coins; 1, Alvaldus. There are also over a thousand Continental coins, 31 Oriental, and about 65 that are illegible.
To Mr. C. Hardwick appears to be due the credit of first suggesting that the Cuerdale treasure had some connection with the battle of Brunanburh. Those who contended that the battle took place at Burnley eagerly seized upon this to fortify their theory. Mr. T. Wilkinson regarded the chest as part of Anlaf's treasure buried during the hasty retreat of his men to their ships in the estuaries of the Ribble, Mersey and Wyre. Mr. J. T. Marquis adopted a similar view.
Were They Lost in 911?
A new line was taken by Mr. W. J. Andrew, F.S.A., in 1905. He ignores the attribution of the hoard to the Brunanburh campaign, and argues that it must be referred to a Danish defeat at this ford in Cuerdale in the year 911. Writing as an authority on coins, he contends that only an army or a government could possess so much money in those days. Various chroniclers tell of a victory about this time over the Danes at Tettenhall in Staffordshire. Mr. Andrew thinks there was a second great battle in the locality of Cuerdale, and that the kings slain in the latter are, by confusion, sometimes enumerated as killed in the Staffordshire fight. Several records say that the English overtook the Northumbrian army as it was "returning home" from a raid into Mercia. Mr. Andrew believes that this description could not apply to a conflict at Tettenhall. The great difficulty about Mr. Andrew's theory is that he puts several chroniclers in the wrong in order that he may be in the right. A battle in which the Cuerdale treasure was lost would be a great struggle. It would hardly be left without a name by the earliest authorities, however much it might be confused with other campaigns by later authorities. Mr. Andrew's view that the Cuerdale hoard is to be attributed to a Cuerdale battle in 911 was adopted in the Victory County History by Mr. John Garstang, F.S.A., who contended that by his discovery Mr. Andrew had recovered a page of English history.
It must be frankly admitted that the connection between the treasure and Brunanburh would have been more clear if there had been a large number of coins of Athelstan in the hoard, or coins of Olaf of Ireland; as for Constantine, he is not known to have had any coinage. The presence of a large number of Alfred's coins, and fewer of Edward the Elder, has led the British Museum authorities to assign the treasure to a date about 905, or early in the reign of Edward, while the money of Alfred was still plentiful. Against this we must set the fact that many coins from the chest were secretly retained by the workmen who found it, and sold and scattered. The real extent of the hoard will never be known; but Mr. Hardwick and other contemporaries thought that no less than 3,000 coins were lost in this way. Then is it certain that coins were "withdrawn from circulation" in the tenth century, according to modern methods? The materials for judging such a question are limited, and the Cuerdale hoard, according to Mr. Andrew, is the most valuable numismatic treasure ever found on English soil. The hoard itself supplies the evidence that coins continued to circulate for a long time. The British Museum list ascribes it to 905 A.D., for it includes, as stated, coins of Edward the Elder; but there are contained here also coins minted before 870, and possibly as early as 830. If they circulated until 905 A.D., it is surely possible that they circulate for 30 years or so longer, i.e., until 937, the date of Brunanburh.
Moreover, close examination reveals that a large number of the coins, especially the Alfred coins, represent forgeries or imitations. If the pseudo-Alfred penny was not really an Alfred coin, are we certain that it was minted during his reign? There can be no certainty. For note the considered opinion of students on some of the coins. Hawkins says of 650 specimens of Alfred (type 10, Oxford) pennies found at Cuerdale, that some others were found with them resembling them in all respects save that the name on the obverse is so apparently blundered as to be quite illegible. These, he says, were possibly struck by Danes in East Anglia or Northumbria in imitation of Alfred's coins. He makes a similar remark about the 110 coins of type 11, Canterbury; and about a coin of type 13, struck at Lincoln, a place not in Alfred's dominion, although this penny bears his name; and of a coin of "Alfred's" but struck by the Danes, which was washed up by the Ribble in 1845; and of coins of the types enumerated, 6, 7, 13, and 14. If we deduct those not authoritative, the number of Alfred coins is distinctly reduced. Hawkins says the imitations were made during Alfred's reign; but this is, of course, an inference. Another curious feature is the Cnut and St. Edmund coins, some of which bear also the name of Alfred. Is it possible that Alfred's name appears on some of these coins in a commemorative sense, as St. Edmund's does?
Again, about 1,800 coins of St. Edmund were found at Cuerdale; Hawkins ascribes them to the reign of Eohric, who succeeded Edmund as King of East Anglia in 890. The wider rule of the Danish Athelstan had intervened. Noticing that some of these bear the name of York City (Eriace Civ.), he says that though struck for Eohric, they must have been minted outside his dominions. Is this very satisfactory? Do not the three matters implied, the connection of Christianity and East Anglia and York, suggest a time much later, for instance, a date following after Edward the Elder's capture of the Danish fort at Tempsford, when he slew Guthrum II. in 918? The uniting of the two kingdoms under a Christian ruler would perhaps suit even better the reign of the Saxon Athelstan, after the death of Sihtric of Northumbria in 926.
The Cnut Coins.
One outstanding problem connected with the Cuerdale hoard is the presence of a number of coins apparently bearing the regal name Cnut. These form the largest group in the hoard; there are 2,534 of these compared with the 919 of Alfred. The legend on these coins seems to be Acren or Crtena, but Mr. Haigh, an authority on the coins of Northumbria, suggested that the legend should be read "cruciformly." This method gives Crnut; and taking the "r" to represent rex or king, and leaving it for the second time round, you can make Cnut. It is generally inferred that Cnut was another name for the Guthred, son of Hardacnut, who restored at Chester-le-Street the order of St. Cuthbert, formerly at Lindisfarne. There was also a king of Denmark in the tenth century called Cnut, but probably not a Christian; whereas on these Northumbrian coins there are Christian legends. We say Northumbrian because the name of York appears on some. The name of King Alfred is also found on some of them. We suggest again that this may be commemorative; for it seems strange that the name of two kings (if Cnut is a regal name) should appear on the same coin. Then the Latin motto "Mirabilia fecit" (He hath done wonders, probably from Psalm 18, or 17 in Vulgate) is on others. Two names of towns appear on these Cnut coins, neither of which has been satisfactorily explained. Quentovici, Hawkins thinks must be the French town of that name near Etaples, and suggests that Cnut struck the coin when on a raid in France. This does not sound convincing.
Cunnetti, variously spelt on the coins, is the other place-name. Mr. Rashleigh suggested that it might be Chester-le-street, which was known by a similar name Cunecacestre. If this is correct, we suggest that the coins may be ecclesiastical rather than regal. What is taken to be Cnut, if read backwards instead of cruciformly, is strangely like the first part of the place-name; and the other places might be towns where "St. Cuthbert" had land.
There is no certainty in these speculations, but our purpose is to show that the Cuerdale hoard calls for much more research, and that it is rash to conclude that the date of deposit could not be later than 905 or 910.
Olaf and Athelstan Pennies.
Two names of great interest appear on certain coins. Several numismatologists can trace an Olaf on some obverses. The spelling Eoloev, which Worsaae gives, resembles that on the known coins of Olaf or Anlaf, King of Dublin. Thorburn gives Oel Dfo for Olaf of Dublin, on the obverse of an early Irish coin.
One very interesting coin in the Cuerdale hoard, from our point of view, is an Alfred penny of the type numbered 10 by Mr. Hawkins. It will be remembered that there are at least 650 specimens of this type in the hoard and some others partly illegible. On the obverse of this one specimen there is a cross with a pellet in each angle followed by four pairs of letters, EL FR ED RE; on the reverse is the legend EDELS R. GELDA. It is unquestioned that the name on the obverse refers to King Alfred. Rev. D. H. Haigh says that the reverse legend is remarkable, and that the hyphen over the S, and the dot after the R, seem to be marks of abbreviation of the name and title of Athelstan. Gelda, he adds, may be the name of a mint, Geldstone in Norfolk, or the Latinised for of the Englished word geld, meaning payment. Can this, says Mr. Haigh, be part of the treasure bestowed upon him at his baptism?
There were two Athelstans; Guthorm, who took the name at his baptism, and the Saxon Athelstan. We could more confidently ascribe this coin to the latter, if "gelda" means tribute. The name Alfred on the obverse creates a difficulty. But if the Cnut coins are regal, those marked Siefred bear names of successive kings. May not Alfred here be commemorative? All the Athelstan coins might well be examined again. Mr. Hawkins long ago spoke doubtfully in scribing them all to Guthorm. The name appears on others in the hoard in the moneyer's place, as in the case of this "gelda" coin.
Neither Mr. Haigh nor Mr. Hawkins, in their respective discussions, makes it quite clear that this coin was found at Cuerdale; we are deeply grateful to Mr. G. C. Brooke, of the British Museum Coins and Medals Department, for clearing up all doubt that it was certainly found in the Cuerdale hoard.
To sum up, we cannot think Mr. Andrew's case proved, when he assigns the treasure to an un-named battle at Cuerdale in 911; nor can we credit Mr. Hawkins when he limits the date of deposit, on numismatic grounds, first to the year 910 or thereabouts, and then after further consideration, to 905 or thereabouts. We have sought to show that there are too many doubtful factors in the case to justify dogmatism as to the ultimate year of deposit. It still seems to us that the Brunanburh campaign was the most likely time for the accumulation and the loss of so great a treasure.
Evidence of the Cuerdale Hoard.
The probability of the treasure being lost after Brunanburh does not prove that the site was at Darwen; but it does strengthen the case for a site somewhere south of the Ribble. The composition of the league between Constantine and Anlaf of Dublin against the English King would have rendered a site west of the Pennines a certainty, but for a statement made by Florence of Worcester. He is believed to have had access to a Saxon Chronicle now lost, and that, in the eyes of some, has added weight to his account of Brunanburh. He says that Anlaf, King of the Irish, with a strong fleet entered the mouth of the river Humber (ostium Humbrae fluminis) and that after the battle Anlaf and Constantine were forced to flee to the ships. Florence's statement is the chief support of the suggested sites of the battle on the east side of England. Some have opined that part of Anlaf's forces entered the Humber to create a diversion; but that is not what Florence says. Now Humbra and its derivatives are occasionally found as equivalents for Northumbria. We suggest that the source used by Florence said that Anlaf entered the mouth of a river of Humbra, and that the error arose in this way. Whatever its origin, Florence's statement as generally understood must be erroneous. The composition of the league is against it; the difficulties of navigation at that time are against it; the story of the battle in Egil's Saga is against it (especially the flight of Alfgeir who rode south and then west to find a port to take him overseas to France); and, not least the discovery of the Cuerdale hoard is against it, and in favour of a site south of the Ribble.
Popular tradition is an uncertain and often a muddled witness, nevertheless it deserves some notice. Though by itself it would prove nothing, yet folk-lore may fortify an argument based on other grounds. Three tales of an ancient battle may be cited. We begin with one furthest removed from our suggested site, for it concerns the manor of Elston in the parish of Preston, which adjoins the river Ribble on the north opposite to Cuerdale on the south bank. Elston was formerly Etheliston (in 1212) or Ethelston (in 1246).
William Elston of Brockholes, who died in 1636, the author of "Mundana Mutabilia or Ethelestophylax," was told by a relative that King Athelstan, lying in camp in this country upon occasion of wars, gave the land of Ethelston unto one whom himself was belsyre (godfather). His relative added that there was a charter to this effect in the Saxon character. This story is straightforwardly told; there seems no reason to doubt it. Brunanburh is not mentioned; but it agrees with our contention that Athelstan came into the district on a military expedition; while the old forms of the name Elston support the derivation given or suggested.
Hardwick mentions the tradition of a battle in the olden time, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Tockholes, in the Roddlesworth valley. It will be remembered that this is the boundary between Withnell and Tockholes; but at one point it comes near to Darwen Moor. Several different writers speak of a discovery of 38 heads of horses in a pit, within a quarter of a mile of Tockholes Church. One account states that the pit was in "Kill Field," the supposed site of a battle, and that clubs and cannon balls were found in the same field. We are not told whether these latter were of stone or metal. If metal, it is a strange thing to find clubs associated with cannon; if of stone, they might be missiles of an earlier period. Different writers associate the missiles found at Tockholes with the defeat of Colonel Shuttleworth by Prince Rupert in 1644, while the Prince was on his way from Bolton to York. Is there any mention of fighting at Tockholes in contemporary records of the Civil War? We cannot find the place referred to in the Civil War Tracts, nor in the standard account of the War in Lancashire.
The records of the discovery of human remains and horses' skeletons at Tockholes are far from careful; and we cannot learn whether the relics were found in close proximity to the weapons named above. The discoveries point to a local battle, but leave the period doubtful.
A Fight at Stepback.
The third tradition is found on the site where we would place the great conflict between Anlaf and Athelstan. Mention of a battle on Darwen Moor excites no surprise among the natives. They know all about it, and tell you that Oliver Cromwell was the leader of one side. Moreover, they are able to assure you that the name of the place is a standing proof of the battle; for did not the great general halt his men there with the command, "Step Back!" and the name endures to this day. This derivation is, of course, doubtful, to say the least of it. Mr. J. G. Shaw, in his history of Darwen, suggests that the explanation of the name is that it comes from "steep-beck," beck being the stream. "The gorge of Stepback," says he, "is a veritable gate of the hills. Its western side is very steep, and well planted with trees, and, from the high moor above, the brook dashes down in a rapid succession of tiny cascades." Whatever the origin of the name, it is noteworthy that a vague memory of a local battle, perhaps post-dated for a later war becomes confused with an earlier war, is found on the actual site for which we contend.
These local tales are extremely slight, and are cited here only to show that they fit in with a conclusion more firmly based on other grounds. Is there any topographical evidence to be deduced from the song embodied in the Saxon Chronicle? It agrees with Egil's Saga in suggesting a pitched fight in which the enemy formed a shield-wall; and the battle described is not a fight in a town; there is no mention of buildings or streets, though it is near Brunanburh. It is not very close to the coast, as Dr. C. Plummer pointed out, for there is a long pursuit; and yet the fugitives sought the ships, so the coast was not out of reach. Some of the references to beast and bird of prey were no doubt part of the stock-in-trade of bards in that age; but they would not have suited the storming of a town, and do suit in a very remarkable way a conflict on Darwen Moor. The erne, or eagle, mentioned in the song, did actually make its home on these lofty, lonely, fells; this seems to be proven by the place-name Earnsdale, which is found both to the north and south of Wenshead, and quite close to the great plateau. "That grey beast, the wolf of the wold," also mentioned in the Song of Brunanburh, would be certain to infest these barren moorlands. When we read the song from the Chronicle with the Darwen site in mind, both the place and the poem gain a new significance.
Summary of the Argument.
To recapitulate. We claim to have carried out Dr. C. Plummer's suggestion that local research might discover a Winheath, and so settle the actual site of the battle of Brunanburh. Before we took up the quest, the Solway site held the field. But we have shewn it to be based chiefly upon a miracle-story, which actually does not mention the Solway; and upon Egil's Saga, with which it does not agree. South Lancashire provides a good rendezvous for the forces arrayed against Athelstan; Scots, Cumbrians, Welsh and a great fleet from Ireland. Wenshead (the actual site) in Darwen, near to Blackburn, the town which gave a name to the battle, fully accounts for the two sets of place-names, those in "win" and those in "brun" relating to the fight. Wenshead also suits the topography of Egil's Saga. The contention that Blackburn, a royal manor in 1066, was one of the burhs made by Aethelflaed, explains the form of the name Brunanburh in 937, and agrees with the statement in the Saga concerning the fortified place north of the heath.
The suggestion that Win, which stands alone in a poem in the Saga, may be the River Darwen may be more doubtful, owing to the existence of later spellings ending in a dental, e.g., Derwente in 1227.
These spellings may have been due to a Latinised for which remained "official"; while a Celtic form re-asserted itself in local pronunciation. The dental ending is not found in the Blackburn Register. The forces which eventually changed Dervent into Darwen must have been already at work in the tenth century. Whether or no, Win was Darwen, we contend that Wenshead was the Winsheath or Winhaed of Egil's Saga, and also the Wendune where Symeon of Durham places the battle. It follows that Blackburn is the Brunanburh of the Chronicle and of the famous song.
We cannot do better than close this new study of an old question with a free rendering of the verses from the Chronicle, the Song of Brunanburh, which we believe to be the Song of Blackburn.
THE SONG OF BRUNANBURH, 937.
Of Athelstan the King
And lord of earls, I sing
Who many a bracelet gave,
And Edmund Atheling brave.
These royal brothers twain
A life long glory gain
Full well, I will aver,
They fought near Brunanburh:
Breaks in the shield-wall made,
Clefts in the linden-wood,
They hewed with hammered blade.
These scions of grandsires good.
So Edward's children still
Their heritage fulfil:
To keep, in frequent fight,
The alien band at bay:
In home and hoard alway
To guard the country's right.
So now the Scot lay low,
Crushed was the stricken foe;
Many a ship-load stout
Fell in the fatal rout.
Drenched was the battle plain
With blood of warriors slain,
From when the sun on high
First lit the morning sky,
Till his great radiance
Glided o'er earth's expanse -
Candle of God and bright
Beam of Eternal Might! -
Yea, till the glorious sun
Sank, and the day was done.
There lay full many folk
Felled by the halberd stroke;
Many a Northman shot
Over his shield of strength:
Many and many a Scot
Weary of war at length.
Forth the West Saxons sped
Where living foemen fled:
Long as the day-beams last,
Following, hard and fast,
Companies clad in mail,
Hot on the foeman's trail,
With swords on mill-stone whet
Hacked they the flyers yet.
Nor Mercians, on that day,
Shrank from the fierce hand-play;
'Gainst Anlaf's braves who roam
O'er ocean's lap and foam,
And sought our English strand -
A fated warrior-band.
There on the battle-stead,
Five youthful Kings lie dead;
Lulled by the falchion-blade,
In mortal slumber laid.
Seven earls of Anlaf there
Sleep, and their slumber share
Folk without count, I wot,
Shipmen galore and Scot.
Then, fled on hasty wing
Anlaf, the Northmen's King;
With but a piteous few,
Back to his prow he drew:
Pushed with an urgent hand
His ready barque from land,
Over the fallow waves;
Scarcely his life he saves.
Then aged Constantin
Flees to his northern kin.
Small need hath he to boast
How he hath met our host.
This hoary warrior, reft
Of kin and comrades, left
Slain in the conflict dire
He mourns - this sorry sire,
One dear among the stark,
For many spears a mark,
Mangled by weapons, one
Young in the war, a son
Slender the warrant had
He to be proud and glad:
Though he be grey and hoar,
Old in deceit and war.
Neither can Anlaf taunt
Full small and feeble vaunt
Can broken armies make
That they the garland take
In battle's perilous race,
Camp-stead or slaughter-place;
Where banners meet and crash
Halberds, and warriors dash,
Encountering, blade on blade,
When sword on sword is whet;
Such as the game they played
When Edward's sons they met.
Soon in each nailéd boat
The Northmen were afloat -
All that the arrows left!
The fallow deep they cleft;
To Dublin bent once more,
Seeking the very shore
That erst they left behind:
But sail and shamed in mind.
Likewise the brothers twain,
The King and Atheling wend
To Wessex once again.
Glad of the conflict's end.
Laving when they depart
War-carrion, sallow, pale,
Food for the raven sward,
And erne with white-tipped tail -
The raven keen to rend;
Horny of nib is he! -
Food for the hawk to end,
Gorging in hungry glee;
Food for the wolf, that bold
Grey tenant of the wold.
Never was known so great
Slaughter of the folk with sword,
Since, as old books relate,
Came to our British sward
Angle and Saxon bands
Out of the Eastern lands;
Since o'er the billow, proud
War-smiths began to crowd,
Men from beyond the foam:
Since they the Welsh o'ercame,
And ardent, keen for fame,
Found here a land and a home.
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