Friday 30 November 2018

Chester Restored

The Mercian Burhs: Chester Part V

Fallen Warriors
The Three Fragments describes Ingimund’s expulsion from Ireland and how they failed to gain a foothold in Wales. Then, so the story goes, the Irish Vikings sought permission from the English Queen Æthelflæd to settle in Mercia who granted them lands near Chester.

In due course the Irish Vikings outgrew their lands in Wirral and desired to take the city of Chester, an ideal trading port facing the Irish Sea and mid-way between Dublin and York. Ingimund duly mustered his forces and attacked Chester, yet Æthelflæd had filled the city with Mercian forces and successfully repelled the Viking onslaught.

After the battle for Chester Ingimund disappears from the Annals. However, according to the ‘C’ and ‘D’ texts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle there was a Viking leader who fell at the battle of Tettenhall in 910 who was named ‘Agmund’ who is said to have given his name to Amounderness (Agemundernes) in Lancashire. The archaeologist and historian FT Wainwright identified this ‘Agmund’ with Ingimund.

The deposition of the Cuerdale Hoard, containing more than 8,000 items of hack-silver, ingots and coins, uncovered just 40 miles from Chester on the banks of the river Ribble in Lancashire in 1840, has been dated to 905-910, the time immediately following the expulsion from Dublin and Ingimund's floruit on the British mainland. FT Wainwright suggested this huge silver hoard was the booty deposited by Vikings fleeing north, probably on route to York, after the battle of Tettenhall. Significantly, the river Ribble forms the southern border of Amounderness.

David Dumville notes that three of the Viking leaders who fell at Tettenhall possess the same names as the sons of the King of Laithlinn who attacked Dublin in 851, and subsequently identifies these fallen Viking kings as members of the dynasty of Ímar (Ivar).

Being expelled from Dublin in 902, we can be fairly certain that Ingimund was a member of the group of Vikings, known as ‘Dark Foreigners’ (Dubgaill) in the Irish Annals, the Norse dynasty of Ímar (Ivar) and his brothers, the sons of the King of Laithlinn. Ivar arrived in Dublin in 851 ejecting their predecessors the ‘Fair Foreigners’ (Finngaill), but were driven from the longphurt by Irish kings Cerball mac Muirecáin King of Leinster and Máel Findia mac Flannacáin King of Brega in 902. Ingimund was clearly associated, if not directly related, to this group; if this relationship is correct we should not be surprised to find him among the Viking leaders at Tettenhall.

Brothers in Arms
The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland record that Ímar (Ivar) was the son of Gofraid, King of Laithlinn (Norway?). Ímar had two brothers, Auisle and Amlaíb, collectively described in the Irish Annals as “kings of the foreigners”. They were leaders of a particularly aggressive Scandinavian group active across Ireland and Britain, raiding into Wales and Scotland by the mid-9th century, taking York in 866 and ruling the city until 954, taking Dumbarton, the rock of the Britons in 870 after a 4-month siege, and being the dominant force in England for a short period in 878.

Ivar (Ímar) was given the title "King of the Norsemen of all Ireland and Britain" in contemporary annals and has been identified by historians as ‘Ivar the Boneless’, the Viking who led the Great Heathen Army in England in the 860’s, returning to Dublin in 870 with much booty and slaves after his success at Dumbarton.  This period of activity in England and Scotland corresponds with Ivar’s absence from the Irish Annals during these years. Furthermore, the death of both Ivar the Boneless and Ivar (Ímar) is recorded as 873 in Ireland, After his death, it is claimed, Ivar’s body was transported to England and buried at the Viking camp at Repton, where a significant grave of an individual was uncovered which showed evidence of weapon trauma; he had received a blow to the skull, and a sword-cut to the thigh which must have severed the femoral artery, probably disembowelling him. Around his neck a leather string which held two glass beads, a leaded bronze fastener and a small silver Thor's hammer. Between his thighs had been placed the tusk of a boar, perhaps in place of the removed genitals so he would arrive in Valhalla complete.

The Viking grave at Repton - Is this Ivar the Boneless?
The Anglo Saxon kingdoms had fallen like nine-pins in the face of the Viking onslaught; Northumbria, East Anglia and eastern Mercia had all collapsed in the face of the Scandinavian storm from the east; only Wessex and western Mercia provided any resistance.

However, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, a collection of annals written in Old English between the 9th and 12th centuries recording events of the first millennium such as the foundation of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms with additions up to the 12th century. The oldest version, the 'A' text was produced during the 9th century, popularly believed to have been commissioned by King Alfred himself.

Copies were passed to other ecclesiastical houses where they were copied and continued. The 'B' text was written in the late 10th century and was certainly at Abingdon Abbey by the mid-11th century where it formed the basis of another copy known as the 'C' text. Another version was produced at Worcester, the 'D' text, whose source appears to have been a northern version of the Chronicle.

Æthelflædian entries found in the 'B', 'C' and 'D' texts focusing on the years spanning 902 to 924, beginning with the death of Ealhswith the widow of King Alfred and Æthelflæd’s mother, and ending with the accession of Æthelstan ‘chosen king by the Mercians’, were termed 'The Mercian Register', or 'Annals of Æthelflæd' by the historian Charles Plummer.

The Mercian Register records the construction of 10 fortifications by Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians, commencing with Bremesburh in 910 and finishing with Runcorn five years later, in response to attacks by the Vikings. In addition, Æthelflæd restored Chester in 907 and Shrewsbury in 901. Along with her husband, Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, they restored fortifications at Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford as part of a Mercian revival. Possibly originating from the land of the Hwicce, Æthelred emerges from the shadows as ruler of English Mercia following the death of Ceolwulf II in 879. He is an experienced warrior who survived many battles and loyal to King Alfred throughout. The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, which contain Ingimund’s saga in the “Three Fragments”, say that Æthelred was a sick man and implies that the Saxon Queen Æthelflæd was ruling on her own at the time of Ingimund’s arrival on Wirral.

Mercian Burhs: The Iron Ring
The burh, or fortified settlement, was not just a defensive structure; it is from the burhs that Æthelflæd and her brother King Edward the Elder would launch the recovery of the Danelaw. Yet before taking the offensive against the Vikings, Æthelred and Æthelflæd first secured their borders against the threat of Vikings in the west and north of Mercia. As we have seen, on several occasions the Vikings journeyed up the river Severn into the heart of Mercia. This resulted in the establishment of burhs by Æthelflæd at Bridgnorth, Chirbury and Weardbyrig (Whitchurch?), and the re-fortification of Offa's settlements at Shrewsbury and Hereford to guard the west. Burhs were also constructed at the unidentified sites of Scergeat ('boundary gap') and Bremesburh.

The distribution of the Mercian burhs shows the main threat during Æthelflæd's reign was from the north and west (the Severn), with fewer burhs constructed along the eastern frontier, later known as the Danelaw. Tamworth to Stafford is just over 30 miles, roughly the Wessex standard distant between burhs, but after Stafford there are no known burhs until Chester, some 50 miles distant. Are we missing a burh or two along the Mercian north eastern frontier zone; or are we to assume the Viking threat was not so great here?

Perhaps Æthelflæd enjoyed a good relationship with the Vikings settled there? This may well be the case as witnessed by the rapid submission of the Vikings at Leicester, Derby and York. However, King Edward, who was not regarded so highly in Mercia, would later consolidate his sister's gains and make further advances into the Danelaw constructing the burhs at Manchester, 919, and Bakewell, 920.

Chester Restored
The restoration of Chester by Æthelflæd in 907, as recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, implies that the Mercian Queen rebuilt the Roman walls and this is usually the accepted meaning of the phrase; however it may also mean Æthelflæd restored law and order and expelled any Vikings there. It probably means both. There is evidence of the restoration of the Roman city walls; it is likely the old Roman fortress of Deva was extended out to the banks of the Dee forming an ‘L’ shaped enclosure to secure the harbour frontage.

Æthelflæd later built fortifications at Eddisbury  (914) and Runcorn (915), 10 miles and 15 miles from Chester respectively. The exact site of Æthelflæd's fortification at Runcorn is unknown but thought to be the Castle Rock, a promontory jutting out into the River Mersey which would have given control movement of Vikings from the Irish Sea on route to York. It is thought the burh at Eddisbury was incorporated into the Iron Age hillfort known as Castle Ditches which would have provided control over the old Roman road passing directly below the hillfort which provided a fast route from Chester to Manchester and on to York and Northumbria.

While the Mercians were constructing these burhs and securing their northern frontier in 914 a Viking fleet sailed into the mouth of the River Severn. After venturing up the river Wye and attacking south Wales the Vikings made no further progress and were turned back by the men of Hereford and Gloucester. In the Autumn these Vikings sailed for Ireland, promptly re-capturing the settlement of Waterford from which the Irish had expelled the Vikings. By 917 the Vikings had re-captured Dublin.

After Æthelflæd's death in 918 King Edward continued to secure the northern frontier of Mercia from the threat posed by Irish Vikings by constructing burhs at Thelwell (Warrington?) to guard a crossing over the Mersey, and Manchester (919), guarding the Roman road from York to Chester, and Rhuddlan (Cledemutha) at the mouth of the Clwyd in North Wales (921). Edward may have built a burh here to oppress a Welsh uprising, it is significant that he died not far away at Farndon on the River Dee after putting down a Mercian – Welsh revolt at Chester.

However, Edward's burh at Cledemutha may have been built to guard the river mouth from the ongoing threat from Irish Sea Vikings. It has been suggested that the unidentified burh at ‘Weardbyrig’ could have been a fortification built at Gwenspyr in the Llanasa to guard the mouth of the Dee on the opposite bank to Chester. When considered with the burhs at Cledemutha, Chester, Eddisbury, Runcorn, Thelwell and Manchester, Gwenspyr (Weardbyrig?) would have formed a line of fortifications to protect the north-western Mercian frontier. This was the area of settlement of the Vikings expelled from Ireland in 902, and following their return to Dublin in 917 the threat from the Irish Sea Vikings persisted after Æthelflæd's death.

Ingimund’s Saga Retold
At this point it is tempting to reconstruct the probable adventures of Ingimund in England and Wales following the expulsion from Ireland in 902. He first landed at Anglesey, the closest sailing to Dublin. After a short period there he was driven out of the island by the Welsh. Sailing further along the coast he arrived at Meols in Wirral where he obtained permission to settle from the Saxon Queen Æthelflæd in return for either payment or military obligation to guard the Dee and Mersey estuaries from further Viking encroachment. After several years there Ingimund’s group had outgrown their allocated land on the Wirral peninsula. Facing the Irish Sea and located directly between the Viking settlements at York and Dublin, Chester had long been desired by the Vikings who had made several previous attempts in the late 9th century to take the old Roman city by journeying up the river Severn. Now the attack was coming from the north western border of Mercia.

The Three Fragments records the unsuccessful attempt by Ingimund and his Irish Vikings to take Chester.  Æthelflæd had filled the walled city with the Mercian fyrd and repelled the attack. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records the restoration of Chester in 907 by Æthelflæd, this was probably soon after the failed attempt to take the city. Ingimund now disappears from the story.

However, if he did not perish in the Viking attack on Chester he may have broken out of the Viking enclave on Wirral around this time and settled further north at Amounderness (Agemundernes) in Lancashire.  Ingimund, or Agmund, finally met his end at the Battle of Tettenhall in 910 when the northern Vikings were annihilated by a combined English army from Wessex and Mercia. Viking survivors from the battle heading back to Amounderness stashed their booty, taken from raiding through Mercia, on the bank of the river Ribble.

Joanna Arman, The Warrior Queen: The Life and Legend of Aethelflaed, Daughter of Alfred the Great, Amberley Publishing, 2017.
Tim Clarkson, Aethelflaed: Lady of the Mercians, John Donald, 2018.
Richard Coates, ÆthelflÆd's fortification of Weardburh. Notes and Queries, 45 (1),  1998.
Clare Downham, Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014, Dunedin, 2007.
David Dumville, Old Dubliners and New Dubliners in Ireland and Britain, Medieval Dublin VI, 2005.
David Griffiths, Vikings of the Irish Sea, History Press, 2010.
David Griffiths, The North-West Frontier, pp.167-187, in Edward the Elder: 899-924, edited by N.J. Higham and D.H.Hill, Routledge, 2001, p.169.
Stephen Harding, Ingimund’s Saga: Viking Wirral, (2000), University of Chester,  2016 edition.
Stephen Harding , David Griffiths and Elizabeth Royles (editors), In Search of Vikings: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Scandinavian Heritage of North-West England, CRC Press, 2014.
N J Higham, The Origins of Cheshire, Manchester University Press, 1993, pp.98-99.
Tom Holland, Athelstan: The Making of England, Penguin (Reprint edition), 2018.
David Horovitz, Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians; the battle of Tettenhall 910AD; and other West Mercian studies, (Self Published) 2017.
Margaret C Jones, Founder, Fighter, Saxon Queen: Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, Pen & Sword, 2018.
Alfred Smyth, The Black Foreigners of York and White Foreigners of Dublin, Saga Book of the Viking Society 19, 1977.
FT Wainwright, Scandinavian England, Chichester, Phillimore,  1975.
Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, Trans. by Joan Newlon Radner. CELT: The Corpus of Electronic Texts, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.


Æthelflæd 1100 celebrations
I make no apology for spending the last six months on this blog writing about the Saxon Queen  Æthelflæd. I started this series in June leading up to the celebration of 1100 years since her death at Tamworth on 12th June 918.

This remarkable woman was born during the time of the Viking Wars and witnessed first hand the constant struggle of her father, Alfred the Great, against the Scandinavians who were not just randomly plundering the coasts but the Dynasty of Ivar clearly had intentions of settling the whole country.

It is difficult for us today to imagine life in these brutal times; Æthelflæd stands out as the only ruling Saxon Queen in England, possessing considerable military ability in a truly heroic age, yet also an adept negotiator gifted in diplomacy, but more than anything she must have been incredibly resolute and courageous in the face of adversity; not one Æthelflædian burh was lost to the Vikings and formed the foundation of the recovery of the Danelaw after her death.

12th June 2018 marked the 1100th anniversary of her passing, with celebrations performed in Tamworth and Gloucester and recognised at other burh towns she created. But here in Stafford where I write, a burh created by Æthelflæd that developed into the county town of Staffordshire, we had nothing, barely a mention in the local newspaper. Why is this town so shy of its Æthelflædian heritage?

This was my little bit for redressing the balance.

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Wednesday 28 November 2018

Settlement: Scandinavian Wirral

The Mercian Burhs: Chester Part IV

Facts and Fictions of the Viking Age
The account of Ingimund’s settlement on lands near Chester as found in the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland (also known as the “Three Fragments”), is generally considered a legendary, unreliable pseudo-historical account of the Viking settlement in the north-west of England.

The reconstructed Viking longship 'Dragon Harald Fairhair'
The Fragmentary Annals is an assemblage of narrative history, with additional fictional elements, from various Irish chronicles and annals. The original manuscript was lost but a later copy of unknown antiquity came into the possession of  “Dubhaltach" Duald MacFirbis. He copied this manuscript in 1643 which then also became lost, but another copy had been made which came in to the possession of the Irish language scholar John O’Donovan.

Shortly before O’Donovan published his edition of the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland in 1860, the concentration of place names with Scandinavian elements in Wirral was noted by the Danish archaeologist and historian Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae in the mid-19th century.

The Three Fragments describes Ingimund’s expulsion from Ireland and how they failed to gain a foothold in Wales. Then they sought permission from the English Queen Æthelflæd to settle in Mercia who granted them lands near Chester.

Ingimund’s settlement at Wirral is not corroborated by any other text. Studies of the Viking Age settlements in England tend to focus on the south and east of the country because this is where the documentary evidence leads us; the primary text of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, the ‘A’ text or Winchester manuscript, concentrates on the fate of the Wessex kings, Alfred the Great, then his son Edward the Elder.

In Search of Wirral Vikings

Historian Frederick Threlfall Wainwright (1917–1961) identified the ‘land near Chester’ settled by the Irish Vikings following the expulsion from Dublin by studying place names of the Wirral Peninsula, the land mass between the rivers Dee and Mersey estuaries, whose border, according to the Domesday Book was "two arrow falls from Chester city walls." Wainwright concluded that “….in Wirral we are dealing with an alien population of mass migration proportions.

Wirral Old Norse place names (after Stephen Harding)
Further studies by Stephen Harding has identified over 600 place names in Wirral with surviving Scandinavian elements, such as; Tranmere, from the Old Norse (ON) elements ‘trana’ (crane) and ‘melr’ (sandbank); Great Meols, ‘melr’ (great sandbank); Kirby, ‘kirkja’ (church) and ‘byr’ (farm, settlement); Helsby, ‘hellir’ (cave) and ‘byr’ (farm, settlement).

In his comprehensive study of Cheshire place names, John McNeal Dodgson claimed that the old Wirral Scandinavian-English border could be traced from the river Dee to the Mersey by the survival of these Old Norse (ON) place names; Raby, ‘ra-byr’ (settlement at the boundary); Dibbinsdale, along the river Dibbin; Mickledale ‘Mikill-dalr’ (great valley), and so on toward Tranmere.

It is also on this peninsula that we find a high concentration of ‘carr’ place names, from ON ‘kjarr’ (marshland) clustered around the flood plains of the rivers Birket and Fender in north Wirral. There are also an unusually large number of ‘rake’ place names in Wirral; 96 being the highest density in the country. This comes from the ON root ‘rak’ literally meaning ‘stripe’, a word used to describe lanes and trackways. And of course there is ‘Thingwall’ (ON ‘ping-vollr’ = assembly field) at Crosshill were the Vikings held their governing assembly.

The occupation of Wirral began off the coast at Meols, now under the sea but marked by the remains of a submerged ancient forest off Dove Point, by Hoylake, where over 5,000 artefacts dating from the Neolithic to the medieval period have been found including Roman coins from Brittany, Carthage and Armenia indicating that Meols may have been a port trading with the Mediterranean during the Roman era.

It is thought that Ingimund’s Irish Vikings landed at Meols, or West Kirby, on the north west tip of the peninsula, where there is deep water anchorage, known as the Hyle Lake. This deep water channel, sheltered by sandbanks off Hoylake, held ships waiting to sail into Liverpool and was where King William III’s expedition embarked to Ireland in the late 17th century.

West Kirby hogback stone
At St Bridget’s Church at West Kirby is a rare 10th century hog-back tombstone of a Wirral Viking. A later inscription marks a dedication to St Olav, the Norwegian king declared a martyr and a saint in 1031. Every year since 2007 a pilgrimage walk has taken place on St Olav's Day, 29 July, between the two Norse churches at West Kirby (St Bridget’s) and Chester (St Olave’s) in commemoration of the Viking heritage of the area.

A little further south at the Church of St Mary and St Helen at Neston is a collection of five fragments from at least three Hiberno-Norse crosses and at St Barnabas Church at Bromborough is a reconstructed cross often claimed to be of Scandinavian origin but the church is outside the Wirral Viking boundary and in reality a wheel-head Saxon cross. The Wirral village of Bromborough is thought to have been the site of the battle of Brunanburh fought in 937 between Æthelstan, King of England, and an alliance of Olaf Guthfrithson, King of Dublin; Owen, King of Strathclyde; and Constantine II, King of Alba. The battle was a resounding victory for the Anglo Saxons, unifying England.

Then there is the mystery of the Viking ship buried under the pub car park. In 1938 workmen laying the car park to the Railway Inn, Meols, noted the remains of a ship, thought to be a Viking trade vessel. Notes were taken and the car park backfilled. The report was found by a later publican who contacted Nottingham University who carried out a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey in 2007.
The GPR survey did indeed reveal a ‘boat-shaped anomaly’ in the underlying clay. However, the Nottingham team led by Stephen Harding has failed to raise sufficient funding for an evaluation excavation. Subsequently, the jury is still out on the so-called Viking ship, which may not be Viking at all, only excavation will reveal dating evidence.

A Fragment of Truth?
The account of Ingimund’s settlement on lands near Chester is found only in the “Three Fragments”, but fits perfectly with the expulsion of the Vikings from Dublin in 902 following an attack on the longphurt (Old Irish = ‘ship fortress’) by the armies of of Brega and Leinster in 902 as recorded in the Annals of Ulster and the medieval Irish chronicle known as Chronicum Scotorum. Thus, the Three Fragments supports the concept of Vikings driven from Dublin, dispersing throughout the Irish Sea toward the islands of Man, north-west England and the Hebrides.

Hiberno-Norse arm rings - Red Wharf Bay
Ingimund’s story would appear to be verified in the Welsh texts the Annales Cambriae and Brut y Tywysogyon which record the arrival of Vikings on Anglesey at Maes Osmeliaun or Maes Osfeilion respectively. This site has been identified as Maes Rosmeilon in eastern Anglesey, however archaeological evidence points to Llanbedrgoch were Viking influence has been identified at a pre-Viking settlement. Houses of Hiberno-Norse style have been excavated at the site along with evidence of 10th century manufacture and trade between York and Dublin. Five burials found at Llanbedrgoch in 1998 (two adolescents, two adult males and one woman) were initially thought to be victims of Viking raiding but analysis has found that the males were not local to Anglesey, but may have spent their early years in north west Scotland or Scandinavia. Nearby at Red Wharf Bay five Hiberno-Norse arm rings were discovered, believed to have been deposited in 905, within a few years of Ingimund’s journey from Ireland.

The Welsh texts tells us that the Vikings were driven out of Anglesey by a son of Cadell ap Rhodri. Then, the story goes, Ingimund appealed to Æthelflæd, Queen of the Saxons, for land to settle as he was tired of war. He was granted lands near Chester, recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle in 893-4 as a ‘deserted city’ but now cited as wealthy and coveted by Ingimund. The Vikings may have paid monies to the Saxon Queen in return for lands, or they may have come to an accord in which Ingimund and his forces where permitted to settle in return for military obligation, guarding the Dee and Mersey from further Viking encroachment.

Carolingian influence on Mercia during the reign of Offa may have been responsible for the construction of the earliest burhs in defence of Viking attacks. This was not the only military tactic common across both sides of the Channel.

The Vikings attacked Paris for the first time in 845, and returned several times in the 860's. In response the Frankish king Charles the Bald declared a series of military reforms; The Edict of Pistres included the fortification of bridges built at all towns on rivers to prevent the Viking longships from penetrating the interior, such as the Loire and the Seine. These fortified bridges fulfilled their intended purpose during the Viking Siege of Paris of 885–886 with the low-lying bridges blocking further passage upstream of the longships.

The construction of burhs in Mercia was not the only borrowing of military innovation against a common enemy. The settlement of Vikings on estuaries (such as Ingimund on Wirral) to guard against further Viking attacks is also paralleled in France. In 911 the French King Charles the Simple granted lands to the Viking chieftain Rollo at the mouth of the Seine in return for his allegiance and military support against further attacks by the Northmen. Rollo’s lands stretched to Rouen and he effectively became the first Duke of Normandy who’s descendants would conquer Anglo Saxon England in 1066.

It is likely that Æthelflæd had made a similar deal with Ingimund; like her father King Alfred before her, the Saxon Queen opted for diplomacy rather than conflict. However, it wasn’t long before the Viking settlers outgrew their enclave on Wirral and attacked Chester.

>> Part V: Chester Restored

FT Wainwright, Scandinavian England, Chichester, Phillimore,  1975.
Stephen Harding, Ingimund’s Saga: Viking Wirral, (2000), University of Chester,  2016 edition.
Paul Cavill, Stephen Harding and Judith Jesch (editors), Wirral and its Viking Heritage, Shaun Tyas, 2015.
Stephen Harding , David Griffiths and Elizabeth Royles (editors), In Search of Vikings: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Scandinavian Heritage of North-West England, CRC Press, 2014.
Clare Downham, Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014, Dunedin, 2007.
David Griffiths, Vikings of the Irish Sea, History Press, 20,
Michael Livingston, The Battle of Brunanburh: A Casebook, Liverpool University Press, 2011.

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Friday 23 November 2018

Ingimund’s Invasion

The Mercian Burhs: Chester Part III

FA 429
?907 We have related above, that is, in the fourth year previously, that the Norwegian armies were driven out of Ireland, thanks to the fasting and prayers of the holy man, Céle Dabaill, for he was a saintly and pious man, and he had great zeal for the Christians; and besides inciting the warriors of Ireland against the pagans, he laboured himself through fasting and prayer, and he strove for freedom for the churches of Ireland, and he strengthened the men of Ireland by his laborious service to the Lord; and he removed the anger of the Lord from them. For it was on account of the Lord's anger against them that the foreigners were brought to destroy them (i.e., the Norwegians and Danes), to plunder Ireland, both church and tribe.

Now the Norwegians left Ireland, as we said, and their leader was Ingimund, and they went then to the island of Britain. The son of Cadell son of Rhodri was king of the Britons at that time. The Britons assembled against them, and gave them hard and strong battle, and they were driven by force out of British territory.

After that Ingimund with his troops came to Aethelflaed, Queen of the Saxons; for her husband, Aethelred, was sick at that time. (Let no one reproach me, though I have related the death of Aethelred above, because this was prior to Aethelred's death and it was of this very sickness that Aethelred died, but I did not wish to leave unwritten what the Norwegians did after leaving Ireland.) Now Ingimund was asking the Queen for lands in which he would settle, and on which he would build barns and dwellings, for he was tired of war at that time. Aethelflaed gave him lands near Chester, and he stayed there for a time.

Viking sites in North West England
What resulted was that when he saw the wealthy city, and the choice lands around it, he yearned to possess them. Ingimund came then to the chieftains of the Norwegians and Danes; he was complaining bitterly before them, and said that they were not well off unless they had good lands, and that they all ought to go and seize Chester and possess it with its wealth and lands. From that there resulted many great battles and wars. What he said was, ‘Let us entreat and implore them ourselves first, and if we do not get them good lands willingly like that, let us fight for them by force.’ All the chieftains of the Norwegians and Danes consented to that.

Ingimund returned home after that, having arranged for a hosting to follow him. Although they held that council secretly, the Queen learned of it. The Queen then gathered a large army about her from the adjoining regions, and filled the city of Chester with her troops…..

…….The armies of the Danes and the Norwegians mustered to attack Chester, and since they did not get their terms accepted through request or entreaty, they proclaimed battle on a certain day. They came to attack the city on that day, and there was a great army with many freemen in the city to meet them. When the troops who were in the city saw, from the city wall, the many hosts of the Danes and Norwegians coming to attack them, they sent messengers to the King of the Saxons, who was sick and on the verge of death at that time, to ask his advice and the advice of the Queen. What he advised was that they do battle outside, near the city, with the gate of the city open, and that they choose a troop of horsemen to be concealed on the inside; and those of the people of the city who would be strongest in battle should flee back into the city as if defeated, and when most of the army of the Norwegians had come in through the gate of the city, the troop that was in hiding beyond should close the gate after that horde, and without pretending any more they should attack the throng that had come into the city and kill them all.

Everything was done accordingly, and the Danes and Norwegians were frightfully slaughtered in that way. Great as that massacre was, however, the Norwegians did not abandon the city, for they were hard and savage; but they all said that they would make many hurdles, and place props under them, and that they would make a hole in the wall underneath them. This was not delayed; the hurdles were made, and the hosts were under them making a hole in the wall, because they wanted to take the city, and avenge their people.

It was then that the King (who was on the verge of death) and the Queen sent messengers to the Irish who were among the pagans (for the pagans had many Irish fosterlings), to say to the Irishmen, ‘Life and health to you from the King of the Saxons, who is ill, and from the Queen, who holds all authority over the Saxons, and they are certain that you are true and trustworthy friends to them. Therefore you should take their side: for they have given no greater honour to any Saxon warrior or cleric than they have given to each warrior or cleric who has come to them from Ireland, for this inimical race of pagans is equally hostile to you also. You must, then, since you are faithful friends, help them on this occasion.’ This was the same as saying to them, ‘Since we have come from faithful friends of yours to converse with you, you should ask the Danes what gifts in lands and property they would give to the people who would betray the city to them. If they will make terms for that, bring them to swear an oath in a place where it would be convenient to kill them, and when they are taking the oath on their swords and their shields, as is their custom, they will put aside all their good shooting weapons.’

All was done accordingly, and they set aside their arms. And the reason why those Irish acted against the Danes was because they were less friends to them than the Norwegians. Then many of them were killed in that way, for huge rocks and beams were hurled onto their heads. Another great number were killed by spears and by arrows, and by every means of killing men.

However, the other army, the Norwegians, was under the hurdles, making a hole in the wall. What the Saxons and the Irish who were among them did was to hurl down huge boulders, so that they crushed the hurdles on their heads. What they did to prevent that was to put great columns under the hurdles. What the Saxons did was to put the ale and water they found in the town into the towns cauldrons, and to boil it and throw it over the people who were under the hurdles, so that their skin peeled off them. The Norwegians response to that was to spread hides on top of the hurdles. The Saxons then scattered all the beehives there were in the town on top of the besiegers, which prevented them from moving their feet and hands because of the number of bees stinging them. After that they gave up the city, and left it. Not long afterwards there was fighting again …

Fragmentary Annals of Ireland
CELT: The Corpus of Electronic Texts []
Author: [unknown]
Translated by Joan Newlon Radner. Electronic edition compiled by Beatrix Färber, Maxim Fomin, Emer Purcell
Text copyright: School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

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Friday 16 November 2018

Irish Vikings: The Dark Foreigners of Dublin

The Mercian burhs: Chester

Part II

The Coming of the Dark Foreigners 
The Annals of Ulster record the first Viking raids on Ireland in the year 795, just two years after the well known attack on Lindisfarne on the north-east coast of England, with the burning of “Rechru by the gentiles”. Rechru has been identified as Rathlin Island off the north coast of County Antrim. Further raids in 795 are reported on the west coast of Ireland at Inishmurray and Inishbofin, followed by the burning of St Patrick's Isle (Holmpatrick) and the destruction of the shrine of Do-Chonna in 798.

These early raids on Ireland were likely connected to Viking raids on the west coast of Scotland  and probably associated with the same group who attacked Lindisfarne, and the earliest recorded attack on England in 789 on Portland in which the king's reeve was killed.

In the 820's raids increased on Ireland's coast by Scandinavian groups termed by the annalists as either 'gaill' (foreigners) or 'gennti' (gentiles). During the 830's attacks recorded throughout eastern and central Ireland became more furious; monasteries at Armagh, Glendalough and Kildare were repeatedly attacked on more than one occasion in the same year.  By now there was greater emphasis on inland rather than coastal raiding with the Vikings becoming involved with internal conflicts within Ireland, often employed as mercenaries or allies.

The Dublin longphort
Large raiding parties such as the sixty longships recorded on the Liffey and Boyne in 837 could only have been sustained by overwintering groups on semi-permanent camps probably on off-shore islands. The earliest recorded Viking land base in Ireland was at Inber Dea in County Wicklow from which the raid on Kildare in 836 was launched. By the 840's the Vikings were establishing permanent camps at strategic locations on rivers and loughs. In 841 Dublin is described as a “longphort” (Old Irish: ship-fortress); with other settlements at Lough Neagh (841), Lough Swilly (842), Rosnaree (842), Limerick (845), Cork (848), and Waterford (860).

The location of the longphort at Dublin has remained a matter of debate among scholars, yet the Annals of Ulster record the site as Dubh-linn, i.e. the 'black pool'. Griffiths states this is possibly the former dark pool in the river Poddle, at its confluence with the Liffey, which would have formed a natural harbour. Excavations have revealed evidence of pre-917 (the date the Viking's re-founded Dublin) Scandinavian houses and animal pens at the confluence of the Poddle and Liffey.  However, no 9th century defences have been found for the longphort. Griffiths suggests the site of Dublin Castle, built by King John of England, overlooking the black pool, where excavations have uncovered evidence of later Viking defences, seems the most obvious location.

Dynastic struggles were prevalent among the Viking settlers as well as the native Irish groups during the 840's. After a series of defeats at the hands of the Irish, the Dubhlinn longphort was attacked in 849 by Máel Sechnaill, high king of Ireland aided by the chieftain Tigernach mac Fócartai. In 851 the annalists record the first appearance of the “Dubgaill” or “Dubgenti” (Dark Foreigners, or Dark Gentiles) in the following entry:

“The dark gentiles (Dubh gennti) came to Áth Cliath (Dublin), made great slaughter of the fair foreigners (Finn gaill), and plundered the longphort; the dark heathens then made a raid on Linn Duachaill where many were slaughtered”.

The descriptions of the heathens or foreigners as 'dark' and 'fair' (often interpreted as 'black' or 'white') is used in both Ireland and Britain during the Viking age has nothing to do with black men apparently taken from North Africa by the Vikings; although undeniably during the Viking age Dublin was a major economy in the trade of “thralls” or slaves. As we saw in the burh at Shrewsbury the Welsh Annals record engagements with “black gentiles” in Anglesey and Gwynedd and the presence of “pagans” in the land of the Wreocensæte during the mid-9th century. There can be little doubt that these Viking groups raiding into Wales and the Marches were from Scandinavian settlements in Ireland.

For many years these terms were used to describe different ethnic groups among the Scandinavian settlers, distinguishing Dane from Norwegian; the historian Alfred Smyth argued for the dark Danes of York and the fair Norsemen of the Western Isles. David Dumville has since argued for the term ‘dark foreigners’ used to describe a new batch of Vikings arriving in Ireland in the 850's; the terms used by the annalists to distinguish between 'old' and 'new'. Clare Downham takes this a step further and suggests that the 'dark foreigners' were the dynasty of Ivar who attacked the Dublin longphort in 851.

A fleet of 140 longships sailed up the Liffey and into Dubhlinn, said to have been sent by the King of Laithlinn “to exact obedience from the foreigners who were in Ireland before them”.

These dark foreigners from Laithlinn (Norway?) imposed their rule on the fair foreigners of the Dublin longphort and gained submission from the Irish in 853. They were led by the son of the kings of Laithlinn known as Olafr (Old Irish; Amlaib) and his brothers Ivarr (OI; Imair) who would go on to create a great dynasty in York and Dublin, and Auisle (OI; Ásl).

Olafr would soon come into conflict with Máel Sechnaill throughout the late 850's and early 860's. During this period the annalists introduced a name for another group, the 'Gallgoidil', fighting alongside Máel Sechnaill against the forces of Olafr and Ivarr. Historians have debated the enigmatic Gallgoidil (foreigner gaels) for many years; it appears to have been a term used by the annalists to distinguish a mixed-race group, from either the dark gentiles or the fair foreigners. They were possibly descendants of the first Norse settlers in Ireland in the 840's who had taken Irish wives.

Raids in to Wales
Having taken over the longphort it wasn't long before the Dark Gentiles of Dubhlinn started venturing eastward across the Irish Sea, taking their unique brand of violence with them; Anglesey was a short day's sail away, and the river Ribble was the most direct route to York. And the old walled Roman city of Chester sat invitingly at the mouth of the river Dee.

Shortly after the arrival of the sons of the king of Laithlinn in Dubhlinn, Dark Gentiles are recorded in north Wales. The Welsh Annals record that Cynin (of Powys) died fighting “the gentiles” (Vikings) in 850. In 854  “Y Llu Du” (the Black Host) attacked Môn (Anglesey). The following year, 855,  “Black Gentiles” attacked Gwynedd, their leader Gorm was slain by Rhodri Mawr, ruler of Gwynedd (844-78). Gorm [Orm] is recorded fighting in Ireland in the 850’s.

The Dynasty of Ivarr (Uí (h)Ímair; literally the grandsons of Ivarr) was a royal Norse dynasty which went on to rule much of the Irish Sea region from the mid 9th century; the Kingdom of Dubhlinn, the western coast of Scotland, including the Hebrides, and parts of north-west England.

The expulsion from Dublin c.902 
However, the rule of the Dark Gentiles in Dubhlinn came to a devastating end in 902 when they were attacked by the Irish kings Cerball mac Muirecáin King of Leinster and Máel Findia mac Flannacáin King of Brega from the north and the south, driving the Vikings out of the  longphort, leaving “great numbers of their ships behind them, and escaped half-dead across the sea."

Having been expelled from Dublin in 902, the descendants of Ivarr moved their base to the Isle of Man and soon started making inroads into north-west England. Yet, in 914 the Vikings would return to Ireland, marking the beginning of the Second Viking Age.

That year a force Viking longships sailed into the estuary of the River Severn pillaging south Wales. Repelled by the men of Hereford and Gloucester  the Viking fleet made no further progress upstream and turned back. In the Autumn the Vikings sailed to Waterford harbour in Ireland. They promptly re-captured their settlement of Vadrefjord [Waterford] from which the Irish had expelled the first Vikings half a century earlier. By 917 the Vikings had re-captured the longphort at Dubhlinn.

>> Continued in Part III: Ingimund's Invasion

Clare Downham, Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland, Dunedin, 2007.
David Griffiths, Vikings of the Irish Sea, History Press, 2010.
Alfred Smyth, The Black Foreigners of York and White Foreigners of Dublin, Saga Book of the Viking Society 19, 1977.
David Dumville, Old Dubliners and New Dubliners in Ireland and Britain, Medieval Dublin VI, 2005.

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