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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